The day filmmaker Joe Berlinger, co-creator of the documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” asked the band permission to write a book about his experience working on the movie, he wasn’t even sure there would be a movie.
The band had just been shown a rough cut of the film and was concerned about how intimate and personal some of the scenes were. Metallica had never really let their feelings out before and were unsure how much of themselves they wanted to reveal – and they had revealed plenty.
During the film, Metallica are captured from the time bassist Jason Newsted quits the band to the moment they step onstage for the first performance of the St. Anger tour. Most of the key scenes take place during touchy-feely therapy sessions between Metallica and performance-enhancement coach Phil Towle. Berlinger and his partner, Bruce Sinofsky, caught heated arguments between frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich; a teary confrontation between Ulrich and Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out of Metallica before guitarist Kirk Hammett joined ; open and sensitive comments by the usually guarded Hetfield upon his return from rehab; and the strange relationship that develops between Towle and Metallica as the therapist assumes an active role in the band’s creative process.
After a lengthy debate about what to do with the film’s potentially embarrassing and inflammatory scenes, Metallica decided that editing the movie would compromise its authenticity. So they were left with two choices: Release it as is or shelve it forever. “It was a key moment,” Berlinger recalled. “Everyone got really quiet. These guys are the most controlling band in a very image-conscious business. Their music is all about being invulnerable, yet they were vulnerable in front of the cameras and allowed us to film these intense therapy sessions. So they had to make this critical decision.”
Since Metallica had bankrolled the entire movie, their decision would be final. After several tense minutes, they agreed to allow Berlinger and Sinofsky to uncage “Monster.”
With that land mine navigated, Berlinger asked the band if he could write a book about the turbulent creative process he and the band underwent, and “Metallica: This Monster Lives” was born. “I wanted to mirror the experience of making the film, which to me is a multilayered, complex portrait of the human wreckage that results and the incompleteness you feel from living a destructive rock and roll lifestyle,” Berlinger explained.
Not only does “Metallica: This Monster Lives” further chronicle the volatility of the creation of Metallica’s St. Anger, it vividly recounts the excitement and uncertainty Berlinger experienced during the making of the movie. Moreover, it draws numerous parallels between Metallica’s then-crumbling relationship and that of Berlinger and Sinofsky, who had their own ego struggles and insecurities to overcome.
“I feel like there’s no making-of-a-movie book out there that is so personal,” Berlinger said. “I wanted to make sure that I really talked a lot about the journey Bruce and I were going through. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, there’s something there if you’re into Metallica, film or rock.”
“This Monster Lives,” co-written with Greg Milner, analyzes the ethical and creative quandaries Berlinger and Sinofsky encountered, including whether the presence of their cameras affected the outcome of the therapy sessions; whether allowing a band to pay for its own movie taints the filmmakers’ credibility; and whether becoming chummy with the subjects of a documentary compromises the film’s objectivity. Ultimately, Berlinger concludes that both the filmmakers and their subjects operated differently than they might have in other circumstances. However, he adds that the process was inspiring, healing and unifying for everyone involved, and that Metallica consider the making of “Some Kind of Monster” as important to their recovery as the therapy sessions with Towle.
“Surely, without the work of Phil Towle, Metallica would not exist today,” Berlinger said. “But Lars has taken it a step further and said that without the film, the band would not exist. He feels the rolling cameras during these therapy sessions enabled the therapy sessions, and that Metallica would have just bullsh-ted each other, stormed out of rooms and not continued talking if they weren’t being filmed.”
In addition to addressing “Some Kind of Monster,” “This Monster Lives” includes a brief bio of Berlinger, describing the other films he’s made with Sinofsky and why Berlinger’s only fictional Hollywood film, “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” was a complete disaster.
Berlinger is currently writing his second book, “Murder, Music and Mayhem: A Filmmaker’s Mid-Career Report,” a comprehensive account of all his movie endeavors. He and Sinofsky are doing a movie about extreme sports and have begun work on “Paradise Lost 3,” the latest in their series on the controversy surrounding the convicted Arkansas murderers known as the West Memphis 3. Berlinger also has projects of his own in the works, including a possible collaboration with Ulrich. “Like Metallica, Bruce and I learned during the making of ‘Some Kind of Monster’ that we can have our own separate careers and cheer each other on,” Berlinger said. “It’s not an all-or-nothing thing.”
The double-disc DVD “Some Kind of Monster” comes out January 25 and will include two hours of scenes deleted from the theatrical film. The set will also feature a “Metallica: This Monster Lives” companion section, which will have entries for all the scenes discussed in the book.