OK, so hard rock probably wouldn't have been the best backdrop to "March of the Penguins." But a pair of upcoming DVD documentaries are hoping to unearth some lesser-known truths about heavy metal and emo in markedly different ways.
The first, "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" (out May 23), was created by Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn and soundtrack producer Scot McFadyen, and may be the most accomplished heavy-metal movie since Penelope Spheeris' "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years." The film is about Dunn's expedition through the world of heavy metal and unravels in a series of "we're not worthy"-style experiences and anecdotes.
"We didn't want to play down the fact that it was a fan's journey through the genre," Dunn says. "Anyone who's grown up with this music and has the chance to meet someone like [Iron Maiden frontman] Bruce Dickinson is gonna be pretty excited about it."
The movie includes interviews with numerous icons of the genre, including Dickinson, Korn, Slipknot, Mötley Crüe vocalist Vince Neil, Rob Zombie, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister and black-metal miscreants from Mayhem, Emperor and Gorgoroth. There are also first-person reports from the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, where hair metal thrived in the '80s; Bergen, Germany, where churches were burned in the '90s by members of black-metal bands; and Wacken, Germany, home of the Wacken Open Air metal festival.
"Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" chronicles the birth of metal and its assorted subgenres, but the film is more than a history lesson: It also explores the psychological, sociological and cultural aspects of the music and its preoccupation with sex, violence and death.
"That's where my background in sociology came in," Dunn said. "We realized that a conventional history of the genre only has limited appeal. We wanted to bring people into the music from the outside. We didn't just want to do a big pat on the back for heavy metal."
Dunn says he wanted to debunk some of the negative stereotypes about metal, discuss how the music form has been marginalized and discuss why numerous religious and political figures have strived to censor it.
"It's still much easier to wear a Sex Pistols T-shirt on campus than a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt," he observed. "Academics and journalists seem to have concluded that metal is not really worth analyzing because it is crude and apparently unsophisticated. And they say it doesn't move us forward as a society, which I think is just crazy. If it makes people feel good, what's wrong with it?"
Dunn and McFadyen started working on a book about the history of metal more than five years ago. But after realizing that there hasn't been a great documentary about metal, they decided to do a film instead — one that was informative yet colored with humor, without ever stooping to parody.
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"One of the most rewarding things happened at one of our screenings when a kid stood up and said, 'Thank you for making a film that, for once, doesn't make us look like idiots,' " Dunn said.
Before it comes out on DVD, the movie will be screened in select North American and European markets. The video features a bonus disc with a 30-minute black-metal documentary, 16 extra artist interviews and director's commentary.
While "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" relies on academic analysis and personal observation, "Bastards of Young," a two-disc release due June 6, tells the rise of emo without any commentary from the movie's creators.
"We were very careful not to put any spin on the documentary," said executive producer Michelle Caputo, who worked for various record labels before launching her own video-production company. "We wanted the story to come entirely from the bands and the fans themselves. ... This is their story."
In the movie, Caputo and director Shannon Hartman interview many key figures in the genre — including Thursday, Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World and Taking Back Sunday — and uncover a grass-roots music form created by and for fans before it became commercial.
"These bands didn't wait to get booked into a club — they just started playing in basements," Caputo said. "They embraced technology and used the Internet as a tool to let their music be heard. And it all happened organically. Even Fall Out Boy, who are double platinum now, started with that approach, and they chatted online directly with their fans to build this true following. I think there's real longevity for bands that do it that way."
Caputo decided to focus on the genre's do-it-yourself aesthetic after Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly told her about the basement parties he used to host in New Jersey.
"I went to one of these shows in New Brunswick to see what they were all about," Caputo said. "Sure enough, there were 100 kids in this basement and there were four bands playing. ... I said, 'This is something we definitely have to capture.' "
After interviews with Fall Out Boy, Armor for Sleep and the Beautiful Mistake, the DIY angle came into clearer focus when Jimmy Eat World talked about how they financed their 2001 album, Bleed American, after being dropped by Capitol Records (see "Pop Goes The Emo On Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American"). The disc was eventually picked up by DreamWorks and sold 1.4 million copies.
Although bands such as My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday have also helped turn emo into big business, most of the musicians in "Bastards of Young" stress how they're not interested in converting amplified notes and heartrending sentiment into dollar signs. Whether they're singing about back-stabbing girlfriends or their love of God, they say their music is equally passionate and sincere.
"We talked to Underoath, and I just think those guys are great because they always deliver amazing shows and are completely true to their beliefs," Caputo said. "When [singer] Spencer Chamberlain says, 'We are here because we love Jesus,' you can see all different types of kids cheering along, from Christians to atheists to Jews, because they all feel how genuine Underoath are, and that energy is transcendent."
The second "Bastards of Young" DVD is comprised of 20 live performances by nine bands, including Thursday, Underoath and Matchbook Romance. The kinetic concert clips illustrate why emo continues to thrive.
"Kids are always going to be there for [emo] because it's so real to them," Caputo said. "They're always going to be loving the music and they're gonna find a way to hear it — even if they have to pick up a guitar and play it themselves in a basement."
Check out everything we've got on "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey."
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