Moving Pictures: The 15 Greatest Hard Rock And Heavy Metal Documentaries

February 16th, 2015 | by staff
Moving Pictures: The 15 Greatest Hard Rock And Heavy Metal Documentaries
Music News
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[Photo: Getty Images]

[Photo: Getty Images]

Whether the topic is politics (with Michael Moore on the left, Dinesh D’Souza on the right), sports (ESPN’s 30 for 30 series), penguins marching (uh… March of the Penguins), or global warming ( 2006′s An Inconvenient Truth),  we are living in a golden age for documentary film-making. And fortunately for those of us who don’t want to bum out on how bad things are all the time, for penguins and  humans, the 21st century has seen a plethora of thrilling documentaries about some of hard rock and heavy metal‘s most important and iconic bands.  However, great non-fiction metal films and hard rock docs have been taking us behind the walls of Marshall stacks and inside the wailing lives of metalheads for several decades now. Being that this is Oscars week, and VH1 Classic‘s new documentary tv series Rock Icons premieres this coming Saturday, what better time to take a look back now at 15 of the very best.

The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years (1988)

Watch: Chris Holmes, live from his pool.

In 1981, director Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilization electrifyingly chronicled the L.A. punk scene, filming bands such as Black Flag, X, and Fear during their brief-but-bright heyday of dominating L.A.’s music scene.

Spheeris then returned seven years later to reveal those same streets awash in hair mousse, leopard-print spandex, and Headbanger’s Ball hopefuls as glam metal had completely taken over the territory.

With deadpan brilliance, Decline II intercuts interviews with ambitious poodlehead musicians (such as the guy who guarantees success for his own flashy ensemble, Wet Cherri), groupies (like two fleshy sexpots in captain’s hats and wraparound shades who assure us, “All women are bisexual!”), club owners (Riki Rachtman and Bill Gazzarri make indelible impressions) and big-ticket superstars both on the rise (Poison, Vixen) and deeply entrenched (Ozzy, Kiss, Lemmy, Alice, Aerosmith).

Decline II also showcases live performances from Faster Pussycat and a series of also-rans (London, Seduce, Odin) leading up to a ferocious final send-off from Megadeth.

The one scene for which Decline II is forever remembered, though, is a tragically uncomfortable interview with W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes while he bobs on a float in a backyard pool, insanely intoxicated. Slurring through descriptions of himself as hopeless, worthless, and alcoholic, Holmes caps the moment by dumping the contents of a vodka bottle over his head. Meanwhile, sitting a few feet away and looking understandably distressed, is Chris Holmes’s long-suffering mom. Fortunately he survived and is still around making more embarrassingly bad videos.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2003)

Watch: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster trailer

Metallica has not come by the title “the band most hated by its own fans” easily. Serious rumblings began in 1991 when the group transformed from hardcore thrash to commercial alt-metal with Metallica aka “The Black Album.” Then they cut their hair and delved deeper into mainstream rock with Load and Re-Load. That was followed by ugliness around fans downloading Metallica’s music via Napster.

Finally, Metallica inflamed even their staunchest defenders with the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a simultaneously infuriating and mesmerizing chronicle of the recording of the group’s single most despised album, St. Anger.

The group brings in a Cosby-sweater-adorned “life coach” to talk them through their differences. Guitarist James Hetfield claims his addiction recovery enables him to work only scant and ludicrously specific hours. Drummer Lars Ulrich gloats over selling his multimillion-dollar modern art collection. Megadeth mastermind and original Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine sits down to discuss how the band brutally fired him in the early ’80s.

Witnessing Hetfield and Ulrich act like entitled jerks in Monster remains one of cinema’s supreme masochistic pleasures. The irony, however, is that once the smoke from Monster and Anger cleared, fans viewed through group with fresh affection. For the biggest hard rock band of all time to allow themselves to come off looking so petty and rotten only qualifies as brave. Some Kind of Monster humanized Metallica, and the years since have been good for all involved—both on-stage and in the pit.

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