Some Kind of Documentary
When filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky began work on Metallica: Some Kind of Monster in 2001 they had no way of knowing they'd end up, three years later, with one of the most riveting and original rock & roll documentaries ever made.
The working relationship of the pair, who had previously collaborated on the grim, emotionally devastating documentaries Brother's Keeper, about familial homicide among the elderly, and Paradise Lost, about a trio of low-income metalheads accused of child murders, had ground to a stop in the wake of Berlinger's crippling experience on the sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Ironically, the birthing of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster wasn't therapy just for the fractious band members, but for Berlinger and Sinofsky as well. The Chronicle spoke to the pair during the film's local debut at SXSW 04.
Austin Chronicle: How did your relationship with Metallica begin?
Joe Berlinger: When we were working on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills in 1995 the big evidence against the three defendants was that they wore black T-shirts and listened to Metallica's music. So we knew we had to have the band's music in the movie, but we didn't know them from a hole in the wall. Long story short, we sent Metallica a fax expecting it to be the opening salvo of about a million faxes that would have to happen, but within literally an hour of sending that initial fax, we got a call back from their manager, Cliff Burnstein, who was a huge Brother's Keeper fan, as was the band. They were so gentlemanly about it that they gave us three tracks for Paradise Lost and then 13 tracks for the sequel, Revelations. From that, a friendship developed.
AC: So Some Kind of Monster wasn't planned as the psychologically observational film that it ultimately became?
JB: At some point their management said they'd like to do a clips-driven sort of historical film since the band was on hiatus at that time. We told them we'd entertain that idea, but what we really wanted to do is to get some vérité unfolding before the cameras.
Bruce Sinofsky: When we told them that on the way to Woodstock '99, Hetfield especially looked at us like we had three heads between us. That clearly wasn't something they wanted to do at that time.
AC: What acted as the impetus then?
JB: To be honest, the devastation of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, the utter evisceration that I received. The worldwide, vicious dislike of that film caused me to spend the last two months of 2000 convinced my life was over. You know, I didn't mind the bad reviews so much because the film was taken away from me, put into a blender, and then released by Artisan without me the film sucked.
But so many of the attacks were of such a personal nature that I spent that time curled up in a fetal position on my floor, horribly depressed, until my good pal Bruce said, "C'mon, get the fuck up, let's go work on that Metallica project." I literally had gone out and gone to Macy's to go back into advertising where I started, because I figured my film career was dead. The great thing about this journey is that the film started out as me needing to work, calling Metallica up, and them agreeing to do it. We all thought it would be some little clips show. No one had any idea or plan that this would be anything like what it became.
AC: What's going on with the Memphis Three these days?
JB: Unfortunately Damien Echols' last appeal at the state level has been rejected, and so now they're raising money to file a habeas corpus brief. We're now filming until the actual conclusion of this thing and then we'll do a theatrical release of the full Paradise Lost story.