We finally watched the highly recommended Metallica doco 'Some Kind of Monster' on DVD over the weekend. Not a fan, I still found much to intrigue in this film - especially in its power of portraiture. Four guys who made it big when they had themselves not reached a grand level of maturity find themselves stuck in a psychological interzone between teenager and middle aged dude. It helped that the band members were not gormless, but in many ways thoughtful and groping for ways to make sense of a life that seems to have lost its plot. It made me reflect on my old preoccupation with the stories we choose to make sense of our lives as individuals and collectively. Fame and a 'bad boy', overly-indulged lifestyle was evidently the script these guys had been working with for most of their lives - and lo and behold, come their forties and fatherhood, they find that they have simply outgrown that particular, teenage dream. Psychologically, they are without direction, have no idea where to now - in other words, they need to cobble together a story that will get them through the next phase of their lives.
The results are mixed. Lars Ulrich, who at first seems the most thoughtful and reflective of the four, seems to dead-end in a possessiveness about the psych-process they embark on with their 'therapist'. He seems to want to own it and the outcome - thereby missing the whole point.
Ironically, the member who was most resistant to the therapist intervention, Hetfield (?), ends up emerging as the most developed as an independent being. What was most scary, however, was, to use the psycho-babble jargon, the co-dependency of all the band members on the band to give them a sense of purpose and identity. They could not function without Metallica and when James goes into rehab the remaining members droop about at a loose end, without someone to lead them. Scary stuff at forty-something.
This documentary is well made and takes the subject-driven approach to non-fiction filmmaking to a new level, taking as it does a band as the focus with the status normally given to individuals in this style of documentary. That in itself is telling - the individual is the band, and those in it are but fragments of a person known as 'Metallica'.
I disagree with some reviewers on one point - many claim that the band goes through tremendous growth during the course of the film-making/therapy process. They do grow and become more reflective and complex - but do they come up with a convincing, alternative story for themselves as individual men? And, does their 'firing' of the admittedly rather asinine therapist at the beginning of their new tour show true independence, or just a return to the same mode as before with a therapy-vocabulary refit?
The film seems to suggest that the celebrity machine of big-label music is what has created the 'monster' or 'Frankenstein' of those individuals who live their lives in this distorted version of reality. After all, the film shows that there will be no change on the part of arrested development cases of which Metallica is by no means the only example (think Mariah Carey...)as long as the stardom lasts and the money keeps rolling in.