Released in 2004, the documentary followed the thrash legends through their period of near collapse as they worked on the St. Anger album. Despite remaining difficult viewing for some band members, the film won awards and was acclaimed for its genuine depiction of the challenges faced by world-class artists.
In a recent interview on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast, Joe Berlinger, the movie’s codirector and coproducer, recalled the hours of tense discussion that followed Metallica’s first viewing and how everything changed when frontman James Hetfield experienced a “moment of clarity.”
“It’s a three-hours-plus screening,” Berlinger recalled of the rough cut he and colleague Bruce Sinofsky presented. “[There’s] literally not a peep through the whole screening – not a laugh, not a moment of recognition, just total silence. And it wasn’t feeling good.” When the movie ended, he said, “Lars [Ulrich] just kind of looks at me, pats me on the back and just kind of shakes his head. James just kind of looks at me – like, this stare – and walks out. The management looked a little nervous.”
The parties had previously agreed to travel from the screening to Metallica’s HQ, about half an hour away, and Berlinger said he and Sinofsky spent the journey remembering the most negative responses they had received from TV executives, certain that the upcoming meeting with the band was “not going to be good.” “And sure enough, we sat around the table for hours,” he explained. “‘You can’t tell our fans that we paid Rob Trujillo a million bucks. [You] can’t show Lars auctioning off his art. They’re not gonna understand. We can’t show this. We can’t do this.’ And the whole film was just crumbling before our eyes.”
He believed Ulrich was the only one who was “pretty chill about the whole thing.” But as he and Sinofsky “defended ourselves really well,” they began to make headway with Hetfield and Kirk Hammett: “I happened to look over at James Hetfield at the right moment, because I saw this moment of clarity come over him. And he pushed himself out from the chair, stood up … and he said, ‘’Look, it’s painful to watch. But you guys did exactly what you said you would do. It’s an honest, raw, truthful portrait of what we went through.’”
You can watch the interview below.
Referring to the Rolling Stones’ 1972 documentary that was never released, Berlinger said Hetfield added, “I’m not sure I ever want to look at it again, but we either treat this movie like Cocksucker Blues and lock it away in the drawer and nobody gets to see it, or we let these guys make the film they want to. … Let them make the film they wanna make. And I’m good with that.”
With that, the director continued, Hetfield left the room. “And Lars looked at me and gave me a ‘good job’ [look],” Berlinger noted. “He gave me great affirmation in that look, like, ‘You got your film.’ And Kirk, who was a little nervous about it, also was in agreement. And I think the management was a little nervous about it but saw the power of the film.”
While Berlinger and Sinofsky edited about an hour from the final cut, it was done on their own terms. “There’s nothing in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster that’s in the film because we don’t want it, and there’s nothing on the cutting-room floor that was taken out because they requested it,” Berlinger stated. “It is truly our film. And that was a magic moment of just going full circle and James realizing … ‘Let’s put it out there.’”