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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a 2004 documentary in which Metallica's personal and collective problems bring them to the edge of breaking up. Drug and alcohol addiction is addressed head-on as lead vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield checks himself into a rehab clinic for a year while the band tries to record what would eventually be their 2003 album St. Anger. There's regular profanity, including frequent use of "f--k." Brief nudity -- a montage of the band's antics earlier in their careers includes two groupies lifting their shirts and exposing their breasts. Shots of Hetfield drinking to excess, and mention of how the band had the nickname "Alcoholica." Overall, the documentary shows the band at a low point in their career, and the ways in which they confronted their problems. Those who have struggled or are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, especially musicians, will empathize and understand Hetfield's struggles and insights on the recovery process.
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What's the story?
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER begins in the spring of 2001, as Metallica started work on a new album. Their bass player of 15 years, Jason Neusted, had just quit the band, prompting the band's management to connect them with a "Performance Enhancement Coach" by the name of Phil Towle who, for $40,000 a month, meets with the remaining three members of the band -- as well as their producer Bob Rock -- and tries to help them work through their interpersonal problems. As they struggle with trying to make an album with no outside ideas brought into the studio, lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield checks himself into rehab, where he spends a year recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. While Hetfield gets treatment, drummer Lars Ulrich alienates millions of fans by suing the internet music file-sharing platform Napster. As Hetfield returns and Towle continues working to help them find new ways of talking out their disagreements, Towle spends more time with the band, at times appearing to act as if he's in Metallica. Pressed to the brink of breaking up, the band finds a way to persevere, find a new bass player, and release their album St. Anger, which, despite not being atop any Metallica fan's favorite albums of theirs, still sells millions of copies.
Is it any good?
Before celebrities spilled their guts on Twitter, this 2004 Metallica documentary lifted the heavy metal veil to reveal a band who was at their lowest point. Bass player Jason Neusted had just quit, lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction for a year, and drummer Lars Ulrich alienated fans everywhere by taking on Napster. During this time, they worked with a life coach, aka, a "Performance Enhancement Coach" who, for all the good work he seems to be doing for their interpersonal relationships, seems to be also insinuating himself into the band and the band's creative process. The members of the band appear emotionally vulnerable and often act like total jerks to each other and those around them, which makes the fact that this even got released at all with the band's full permission even braver.
If, in terms of what it's like to play in a rock and roll band, This is Spinal Tap is the comedy to The Last Waltz's tragedy, Some Kind of Monster unintentionally has a lot of Column A, and its fair share of Column B. The idea of a life coach counseling a heavy metal band -- a genre replete with alpha-geek themes of war and destruction set to violent thrash music -- inherently sounds like something from sketch comedy. And Dave Mustaine, kicked out of Metallica early in their career due to drinking way too much, bearing his soul to Lars Ulrich about how much it hurts to be in only the #2 best-selling metal band, Megadeth, instead of being #1 like Ulrich is, shows just how strange their realities and priorities can be. And yet, Mustaine's regrets over not getting help while still in Metallica ring much more universal to families whose members have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and Hetfield's profound insights on his own journey to recovery should also resonate with teens who have seen addiction firsthand. And the arguments, the pettiness, the manipulation, the passive-aggressiveness, the massive challenge it can be for bands who have been together for many years to maintain friendships and working relationships does prove universal for anyone, musician or not, faced with the work and challenges of maintaining a long-term relationship. It's that kind of bravery in the "warts and all" approach to this documentary that makes it worth watching, whether you're a Metallica fan or not.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries centered on musicians. How is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster similar to and different from other music docus?
In the image-conscious world of the entertainment industry, it would be a risk for many artists to show themselves to be so emotionally vulnerable as Metallica is in this documentary. Does this "warts and all" approach seem brave on the part of Metallica to even agree to have the documentary made, or do they simply come across as out-of-touch, entitled rock stars?
Since the 2004 release of this documentary, social media, Twitter in particular, has been a forum in which celebrities reveal more about themselves than ever before -- political opinions, nightlife, insecurities, among other things. Is it better for some entertainers to have larger-than-life personas where they don't reveal too much of what's "behind the curtain," or does social media and documentaries like these rightfully demystify celebrities and reveal them to be just as human as anybody else?
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