Screen Writer brings metal to the movies

Tara Brady looks at metal on Film

 

Long before the rest of culture caught up and decided that everything was ironic – this, younger readers, was in the time before post-irony – heavy metal was there, bought the T-shirt with the tour dates on the back, and swung right back toward the post-post irony of Wolfmother and The Sword.

When everybody else was doing Austin Powers, the hardest, shiniest, loudest school of rock had already reinvented itself in no-fooling Daniel Craig mode. As other musical forms were getting around to posturing and snark, metal had evolved and shed its skin where novelty Eurovision acts might find it.

Metal movies were now genuinely moving, funny, and real world: films such as Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Heavy Metal in Bagdad and last year’s Mission to Lars.

Metal on film has kept pace with all kinds of cultural shifts within the genre. Or thereabouts. It’s complicated. The verisimilitude of film chimes best with the artifice of metal in realist, that is, documentary (or if you will, rockumentary) mode.

The unsurpassable This Is Spinal Tap is, of course, funny on purpose. But lots of metal, particularly the theatrical glam subgenres of the go-go Reaganite ’80s, was ostentatious and theatrical enough to be funny on purpose. (See Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilisation Part II, wherein W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, floating on a pool inflatable, misses as he attempts to knock back a bottle of vodka while his elderly mum watches on.)

Back in the day, metal’s parodic and self-parodic tendencies made for some of the most interesting shapes and textures in the movie- verse. Hollywood has often overshot the mark attempting to recreate metal’s largesse on screen. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (above) is broadly funny; Airheads is just broad.

And yet, as anyone who has ever been to a Queensryche or Manowar gig can attest, metal is broad both in its aesthetic tendencies and as a welcoming, generous church. The genre’s knowingness and self-reflexivity allows us to laugh at and with Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s “Hell, yeah” chick; we sing along to Sammy Hagar’s theme tune while cracking up at the sex-scapes of Gerald Potterton’s unabashedly adolescent animation, Heavy Metal (1981); we love Ronnie James Dio’s history of the devil horn hand sign in 2005’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey without believing a freaking word of it.

As 2004’s Some Kind of Monster opens, Metallica are in psychotherapy and gearing up toward the making of St Anger (Nurse, the screens!). But by the end of Joe Berlinger’s canny documentary the quartet are staring down the horseshit of talking cures.

James Hetfield is seldom mistaken for Steven Hawking but he comes across as a good deal smarter than psychotherapist Phil when the latter insists that the band’s attempts to dispense with his services indicates they’re not ready to dispense with his services.

On film, as in life, if the joke is on metal, it’s because metal is in on the gag.

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