Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

Showing at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., March 17–Thurs., March 23. Not rated. 96 minutes.

Two years before Metallica's Master of Puppets arrived in 1987, Tipper Gore and company published the infamous "Filthy 15." Their shit list of dangerously obscene songs included Mötley Crüe's "Bastard" (violence), Black Sabbath's "Trashed" (drug and alcohol use), AC/DC's "Let Me Put My Love Into You" (sex), and Venom's "Possessed" (occult). Never mind that these bands were vastly different in style, or that they possessed a sense of humor and irony, as Twisted Sister's Dee Snider made eloquently (gasp!) clear in his famous Senate testimony—a great scene archived in this affectionate new documentary.

One of the film's three co-directors, and our on-screen guide to metal culture, Sam Dunn is plainly bothered by the persecution and ridicule of his favorite form of music. He's a sterling example of how parents just don't understand. Regardless of whether or not he ever chopped his breakfast on a mirror during his '80s youth in Victoria, B.C., he grew into a thoughtful anthropologist. His Journey is both scholarly and a love letter: a big, digital fanzine to the metal genre.

As such, it's a lot more entertaining than your standard talking-heads music doc. Now 30, Dunn takes the opportunity to interview as many of his idols as possible: including Motörhead's Lemmy, discussing how female-fronted Girlschool could kick most bands' asses; and Iron Maiden's Rob Dickinson, with a lesson on operatic voice projection. Not unlike Jack Black in School of Rock, Dunn uses a chart of metal subgenres to show its evolution since Black Sabbath's use of the tritone—the musical interval said to beckon the devil—in 1970. He exhaustively covers everything from Blue Cheer to Slipknot, with a refreshing lack of judgment regarding the latter. In interviews with younger fans, he makes no distinction between exhilarated teenagers outside Slipknot's performance and the ale-soaked roughnecks at Germany's Wacken Open Air festival.

In fact, his most typical response is awe, even when getting the stink eye from belligerent bands who've decided the interview is fucked. Whether it's Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi explaining his band's incidental Satanic labeling or an encounter with Norway's more evil than evil black metal bands, Dunn's enthusiasm and respect for his subject may actually inspire you to download—and become—a Master of Reality.

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