How do you celebrate your favorite music and what lengths would you go to keep it alive? This compelling documentary explores several angles of the hard rock genre through the lens of both its stars and fans as it attempts to address a myriad of issues.
Director Jonathan McHugh has taken on the overwhelming task of trying to consolidate what it means to be a metal fan into this 2-hour film and results are mixed. McHugh, along with producers Gary Spivak and Jonathan Platt are industry vets and the passion shows, mainly in the astounding number of celebrity interviews they were able to procure, including Duff McKagan, Lars Ulrich, Prophets of Rage, Rob Zombie, Machine Gun Kelly, Sevendust, Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch, and Godsmack – to mention just a few. Interspersed with the musician interviews are deep dives on the lives of several fans, and it’s interesting to spend time in both worlds. (I loved the profile on the disabled woman who goes to shows to crowd surf in her wheelchair. I could watch her and her upbeat personality for two hours alone.)
It was a clever decision on the director’s part to spend so much time with the fans as a special way to see the music through their viewpoint. Many make annual pilgrimages to concerts throughout the year, building lifelong friendships with fellow attendendees. However, given the stunning access McHugh gained, it would’ve been great to hear in more detail from the musicians themselves. The amount of people he amassed is truly impressive and it’s especially rare to have people like Duff McKagan and Lars Ulrich speaking on record. More of that would’ve been great, though the point the director is trying to drive home is clear: the impact on the famous people who make the songs and the “regular” folks who love them are equal. No matter who you are, the art itself is the master.
To that end, the scope of the project is too big to fully do it justice. Again, between the amount of people willing to do interviews and the amount of information covered, it ends up being too much for one documentary to handle. (McHugh tries to cover everything from fandom, to racism, sexism, drug abuse, mental health, and more.) Long Live Rock would’ve been an excellent docuseries. As a film, it’s a bit overstuffed and overwhelming. The amount of topics – instead of sharpening the offer – actually cause it to lose a bit of focus and energy by the end.
Had it been a docuseries, each issue could’ve been more fully explored. As it was, it was a bit jarring to have racism covered in such a way that was, “Hey, metal isn’t racist. Look, Ice-T is here!” and in the next frame try to make the case that metal almost "died" when rap music momentarily became the biggest selling genre. Are we supposed to root for metal over the rise rap on the charts? Though that’s surely not the filmmaker's stance, it’s not the most effective moment either. These white rock stars will be fine. No one is too worried about their outlet going away; and if that’s the only threat to their well-being… I can live with that. (Same goes for the rampant sexism related to rock-n-roll, especially in metal. There are great takeaways from several female-lead bands, but it really only skims the surface of a much darker underbelly.)
Ultimately rock was never in danger of dying and I’m honestly not sure that this was ever truly a concern. But if you love these bands, you will enjoy this overview – there’s more than a bang for your buck in stellar concert footage and access to the rock stars that make it all happen.
Long Live Rock suffers from trying to do too much in one pass, but it’s still a solid and passionate piece of work.
Nuggets – more film thoughts:
* You absolutely must watch the credits! The outtakes of the musicians giving their verbal consent to appear in the film are freaking hilarious and a true highlight. More of this, please!
* Same with some of the fans, many of whom could star in a movie of their own. The dentist that flies his own planes to shows? The couple who met at a concert and keeps their marriage alive… by crowd surfing? The trauma nurse who blows off steam in the mosh pit? Yeah, I'd watch more of that!
* Again, the concert footage is crazy and will make you long for the days when shows can be safely experienced again in a communal setting. (Psst... wearing a mask, refraining from crowds, and getting the vaccine when it's your turn will help speed up the process!) Here's to cheering each other with overpriced beers in the near future!