MotherJones.com recently conducted an interview with filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who's best known for "Paradise Lost", a harrowing film about the case of the West Memphis Three — a trio of Arkansas teens convicted of murdering three eight-year-old boys based on flimsy evidence of satanism — and "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster", the 2004 rockumentary about group therapy for rock stars. An excerpt from the chat follows below.
MotherJones.com: Damien Echols [one of the West Memphis Three] says that METALLICA's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is his favorite song. Did that make the connection with the band that led to "Some Kind of Monster"?
Joe Berlinger: One of the great ironies of my career is that people imagine me as some sort of hardcore metal guy because of the METALLICA film. But the reason we met METALLICA was that their lyrics were introduced into the trial. At the time I barely knew who METALLICA were. All I knew is that their music was on trial as well as Damien, and it's absurd in this country that your musical taste will define for a prosecutor that you must be a killer. So I reached out to METALLICA. We ended up really hitting it off. They gave us the music for nothing. It led to a relationship, which led to the film.
MotherJones.com: Did you get some benefit from the group therapy METALLICA went through?
Joe Berlinger: I actually did. After "Paradise Lost 2", I went and did the disaster of my career, the sequel to the "Blair Witch Project". It was not a small disaster; it was on a worldwide belly-flop level. The studio recut it and it bore zero resemblance to the film that I thought we were making. It just put me into a profound depression because it was a total disaster. So I called [METALLICA drummer] Lars Ulrich up and said, "You wanna make that film now?" I went out to San Francisco, started shooting, and within a week, the band was falling apart. Lars looked at me and said, "You know, I'm not sure, they're bringing in this performance enhancement coach." I said, "Lars, that's the film." I felt so grateful to be sitting there and listening to this because I felt like, "Look, here are incredibly successful people who are going through their own creative and existential crisis, just like me." I didn't know what my next move was, I felt like I fucked up my career, I was turning 40, just like these guys were. It just was this incredibly uplifting, inspiring experience to witness these guys going through it at a time when I really needed to hear some of that stuff.
So the METALLICA film was like this incredible life experience where I learned the most through guys that stereotypically you would think couldn't offer much to you. That's what I love about the film: It explodes your stereotype of them — they're not just a bunch of lugheads banging on the guitar.
Read the entire interview from MotherJones.com.