Berlinger, Joe & Milner, Greg
Metallica:This Monster Lives (Book Review)
Released: 2004, St. Martin's Press
Metallica has never been a focal point of this site. It’s just not really our style and in the bands 30+ year career we have only reviewed one Metallica album on the site. However, in the spirit of being comprehensive for the Library Of Loudness section I decided to review six books about Metallic books in July and I have one more to add to the pile, THIS MONSTER LIVES. To pair up the review, I also reviewed the Metallica movie SOME KIND OF MONSTER this month.
It feels a bit weird to write a book review about a book about a movie about band making an album. Follow that? Yes, THIS MONSTER LIVES is the book of the Metallica movie (SOME KIND OF MONSTER) that was made while they made ‘shudder’, ST. ANGER. This nicely appointed hard cover (with dust-jacket) is just over 300 pages long with lots of black and white photos, side-bars and quotes from the movie. With large font it looks good and is easy to read. Naturally it helps to have watched the movie but it is not mandatory.
The author and primary film-maker, Joe Berlinger, along with his friend and business partner, Greg Milner, took a dry clever approach to writing this book. For one, you don’t have to be a die-hard Metallica fan to appreciate this book. It helps to understand the band a bit and I’d just that due to their massive, global popularity that most people have some idea about the band. Secondly, you don’t have to have seen the movie but it certainly helps, when the authors are trying to describe scenes. I had seen it twice, once when it came out and once about a year ago when I picked up the special Edition DVD with the ten hours of bonus footage. Considering that Joe and Greg shot 1600 hours of film, (over 2 months worth if you watched it all in a row, uninterrupted, 24 hours a day!) so, having 10 hours bonus footage on the DVD is not that much. I watched the movie again after reading the book and I saw so many things I never noticed before, it was a very interesting exercise. I can’t imagine being Metallica and having to watch it! Lastly, the authors write in a fashion that assumes the reader is not a film person. I really enjoyed this because I’m not a movie person at all. I learned a lot of about the craft (and art) of film-making as well as lots of interesting information about the film industry including filing, post-production, editing, marketing, publicity, and distribution. I always sort of vaguely wondered why movie cost so much to make, now I know!
THIS MONSTER LIVES is slightly autobiographical about Joe, but really only focuses on his film career. 80% or more of the book is about the movie. Joe and Greg were film-makers who had some success with a pair of documentaries (BROTHERS KEEPER and PARADISE LOST were hired to shoot a promotional film of Metallica for Elektra and Q-Prime, the bands management fro the upcoming Metallica album ‘shudder’ St. Anger’. Over the course of two years a seemingly simple promo project morphed into a multi-million dollar award winning, feature length movie. Through the course of the book Joe takes us step-by-step through the entire process, from the initial meeting with the band in a NY Hotel, (where they seemed mostly uninterested) to completely integrating themselves into Metallica’s lives over the course of two incredible years capturing the aforementioned 1600 hours of footage. Talk about imbedded journalism! He describes in detail every minute aspect of the bands lives as they went through the period of break-up, rehab, therapy, moving, fighting, recording, recruiting a new bassist and touring. Eventually the band had such faith in the project that they bankrolled the whole thing. It gives us a glimpse into the size of the relentless Metallica machine and the sheer scale and money involved. Most bands I’d argue don’t have an extra four million dollars lying around to finance a movie. Financially, it’s a bit more complicated than that but you get the big picture, pun fully intended and deliberately delivered.
The author got a bit maudlin at times as creative types tend to, complaining about his lifestyle (as many liberal-arts types do as well) without perhaps appreciating the fact that they were getting paid thousands of dollars to hang out with Metallica in luxury circumstances of private jets, hotel suites and elite film festivals. Joe’s prose gets very touchy-feely which kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but he was sincere and intimate about his feelings of depression and boredom and loneliness on the project. He also admits he not a Metal fan which is a bit of a black mark against him in my book, and he falls prey to some silly stereotypes and common misperceptions about Metal but that same detachment from Metal also gave him an unbiased eye which a good documentary film-maker probably needs to be successful.
THIS MONSTER LIVES, subtitled THE INSIDE STORY OF SOME KIND OF MONSTER is just that, an excellent exploration into the art and science of movie making, which in this case the topic happens to be a Metal band. It is an excellent companion piece to the movie and closes the loop very nicely.