Welcome to the second installment in my ‘Five Films’ series here at The Documentary Blog! Just a quick note: This week’s five films share the theme of Heavy Metal. I just wanted to point out that these choices are from the point of view of someone who isn’t really a metal fan. (Although I think I would appreciate it more than the average non-fan) So just be aware that you don’t have to love the music in order to get enjoyment out of these films.
Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance vs. Judas Priest
As a kid growing up in the eighties, metal was everywhere. I specifically remember seeing heavy metal t-shirts in novelty stores (as I bought my bootleg Simpson’s t-shirts) and thinking that these bands were pure evil, which of course piqued my curiosity. Thanks to people like Tipper Gore, the 80’s was the decade that saw music on trial for its lyrical content and immoral messages. The case that stuck with me the most is also the topic of this film, James Vance vs. Judas Priest. Here’s the synopsis:
Just before Christmas, 1985, 19-year-old James Vance watched his best friend Ray Belknap shoot himself to death with a .12 gauge shotgun in a churchyard outside Reno, Nevada. Then Vance pulled the trigger on himself. He survived but was severely disfigured. Vance later claimed his actions had been influenced by the heavy metal music of Judas Priest, prompting his family to sue the band. The drama of the ensuing trial provides the framework for David Van Taylor’s disturbing look at teenagers today.
I remember when James was a guest on Maury Povich, and I was terrified. This was around the same time that Geraldo Rivera was doing prime-time reports on the growing plague of Satanists throughout the United States. Heavy metal was under attack, and James Vance’s family was on the front lines of a high profile case that could’ve set a precedent for music censorship. The prosecution claimed that the song “Better by You, Better Than Me” had contained subliminal messages. When played backwards, the words ‘do it’ could be heard multiple times throughout the song. In response, lead singer Rob Halford took the stand and asked the question “Well…do what? Mow the lawn? Have a cup of tea?” The film inter-cuts footage of the trial with interviews with the families, James Vance, and heavy metal fans. You can check out the film in it’s entirety on Google Video.
I’m not really a Metallica fan, but Some Kind of Monster was one of my favourite films the year of its release. Watching this group of graying metal icons undergo a stint with a psychiatrist in an attempt to resolve infighting within their band is both surprising and entertaining. The dynamics of their relationship couldn’t be any more perfect. You’ve got Lars, the outspoken drummer who butts heads with James, the lead singer who enters rehab thanks to his drinking problem. And then you’ve got guitarist Kirk Hammet who passively sits back and watches everyone fight thinking to himself ‘why can’t we all just get along?’. All of this makes up for some hilarious stuff that will make the metal heads question Metallica’s credibility as aging artists, and the non-metal heads respect them for allowing such an honest portrayal of their not-so-perfect and not-so-metal lifestyle. Check out our full review of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster here.
Although Heavy Metal Parking Lot is more of a home movie than a documentary, it’s definitely an important representation of the Heavy Metal culture, even if it is poking fun at it. Directors John Heyn and Jeff Krulik scower a parking lot outside of a 1986 Judas Priest concert, interviewing obsessive and hyper-active teenage fans about their love of metal. What follows is a display of amazing fashion sense (zebra man) and unbridled teenage angst as the kids flash the horns at the camera and get wasted in preparation for the best show of their lives…PRIEST!!! Coming in at around 30 minutes, Heavy Metal Parking Lot is just short enough to sustain this plot less exploitation (not necessarily a bad thing in this case) of obsessive kids who simply love metal. Also check out the sequels: Neil Diamond Parking Lot and Harry Potter Parking Lot. You can our full review of this film here.
This is definitely geared more towards the Metal fan, but for the uninformed, it’s a great introduction to Heavy Metal music and its many sub-genres. Although i’m not much of a metal fan myself, it was interesting to watch the progression of a genre of music throughout the years. Directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen use a giant family tree to track the roots of heavy metal music, ultimately leading to a personal point of view of the band that truly created metal: Black Sabbath. The film follows co-director Dunn, a 30-year old anthropologist, as he traces back the origins of his favourite music, breaking down its many stigma’s and trademarks, all the while meeting some of his childhood idols. The list of interviews is pretty impressive, representing the who’s who in modern and classic metal. Check out our full review of Metal: A Headbangers Journey here.
You may be asking yourself why I chose to list Paradise Lost 2 rather than part one. That’s easy, part 2 is not only better than part 1, but it’s one of my favourite documentaries of all time and features one of the creepiest men in film history, Mark Byers. Here’s the story: Three teens are convicted of ritualistically murdering three children, leaving their bodies brutally beaten and desecrated in what the prosecutors believe was a satanic slaying. The ‘leader’ of the three ‘killers’, Damien Echols, appeals his conviction as evidence starts popping up that the killer may in fact be Mark Byers, the step-father of one of the three victims. What follows is some of the most gripping drama I’ve ever seen on film with a ‘performance’ from Byers that will guarantee to send chills up your spine. Where does heavy metal fit in? Well the West Memphis Three (the nickname given to the three supposed killers) were big fans of Metallica, among other heavy metal acts. They dressed in black, were interested in the Wicca religion, and were somewhat anti-social. Some believe that these anti-social traits lead to the unfair arrest and subsequent conviction based more on prejudice rather than actual evidence. You’ll definitely see this film pop up on a few more lists of mine in the future.
Related Link: Five Films: Religion