Ministry clings to the top of the heap of Industrial Rock bands, purveyors of that type of music that's mechanical, often lightning-fast, full of rage, and full of textures best described as grating. Lead singer Alien Jourgensen has been pushing his metal machine through the paces since the late 1980s, when, in a fit of enraged prescience, he switched the band's focus from synth-pop to grinding aggression. For those in the know, the rest is history. But even for those in the know, they probably haven't been privy to this kind of history, a thoroughly encompassing tour diary that "shoves your ass way, way backstage with the scariest band ever." Ministry fans, prepare to have your minds blown.
"Are you sure Al wants this out?" asks Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. It's a good question since this is a movie that lays everything out on the table in fits of openness that seem delirious and unknowing. Constructed in fairly straightforward fashion, the documentary consists of plenty of tour footage; on the bus, in dressing rooms, and wherever else director Douglas Freel might find Al capering. Footage of concerts is plentiful as well. (I don't recall Freel ever making it known just which tour we're on. It's either from 2008 or like, two months ago, whatever the case, it feels fresh.) Finally, interviews are had with many luminaries from Industrial Rock to Nu-Metal, Heavy Metal, and Record Executives. Blend it all together in canny and knowing ways, and what you have is a damn good rock-doc.
As an intimate look at one of music's sincere bad-boys, it's tempting to boil this movie down to a salacious list. Trust me, it's all there, and it's kind of grim and sad much of the time. Al does drugs, drops trou, acts like a teenager, and rocks the house with casual glee. No doubt, his contributions to the scene have the pummeling power to create ripples still felt today. Al's buddies, contemporaries, and spiritual children all attest to this, though most have moved on from the unique type of rut Al calls home. Trent Reznor, David Yow, Lemmy, King Buzzo, singers from Korn and Tool all speak of the Ministry influence while being frank about the benefits of growing up. Record execs are more laughingly forgiving, oddly. As long as the albums sell, they're pretty happy.
What makes this documentary so successful in its depiction of the bland nightmare that is endless drugs, sex and rock-and-roll, is its combination of honesty, openness and "who-gives-a-fuck" attitude not usually found in rock documentaries authorized or otherwise. Freel seems to find good veins of material by simply setting his camera down near the floor, and letting it roll as band members apparently forget it's on. But a little subterfuge doesn't explain why his subjects seem so happy to jovially bicker in front of the lens, or why Al has no problems shooting up while trying to explain his drug use. The man is honest if nothing else, and as he explains, he's figured out how to make a career out of being himself. The unasked question imbuing some mystery to the movie is this: "how long can you sustain such a life before going mad or dead?" Watching The Jesus Lizard front man Yow stagger around drunk and naked onstage seems to provide a clue. Listening to one of the executives relate a pre-record-release conversation with his boss provides another:
"Why is this Ministry record late?" ... "Because Al is in rehab." "Do you mean to tell me that we're working with Drug Addicts?!" "Well, dude, you're in the record business, of course we're working with drug addicts. Lots and lots of them!"
As a casual Ministry fan, I have no idea if Jourgensen is usually a man of mystery. If so, he isn't anymore. If you dig the music - the kind that makes you dislocate your neck - this cerebellum-crunching cinematic jackhammer is a must have. In fact anyone who buys into the desire to be a rock star would do well to pick this up. It's probably no surprise that many of the interviews are with former Ministry members, including the Paul to Alien's John, bassist Paul Barker. Ministry Fix is harsh, funny, expertly paced, painfully insightful, and somehow, inspiring too.
Presented in glorious 4 X 3 fullframe, this movie still looks pretty good considering its down-low production motif. Backstage Tour footage is appropriately black-and-white, (something that makes perfect sense, and you won't even think about it) with a pretty crisp, handheld digital vibe. Concert footage often explodes into color, with pro camera set-ups providing invigorating on-and-above-the-stage feelings. Concert picture quality is about average in detail levels and sharpness. Interview footage also trades between black-and-white and color imagery. Stationary cameras provide the sharpest and best-looking picture of the movie. No compression artifacts are apparent.
Appropriately, Ministry concert audio is crushing and loud. If you're watching at home, with the kids in bed, have your remote control handy. Interview and backstage audio is a degree quieter. Interviews are clear and easy to understand, (except for Lemmy, of course) while any backstage or on-the-bus stuff must contend with the vagaries of live audio. Lots of echoes, etc. so listen up!
Gigantic Pictures has furnished us with the 2-Disc Collector's Edition, which includes some nice goodies. You get an 11" X 17" Poster of the DVD cover to put in your man-cave. Also included is the full-length CD: Fix This!!!, by Paul Barker. Nicely gothic, crunchy and hypnotic, Barker's album is a welcome and interesting contribution to this package. I find Barker's solo stuff to be lacking a little something, which is of course the presence of Al, and his sensibilities, but this album will certainly get plenty of spins when I feel the need. DVD extras are limited to a bunch of additional interview footage divided into three parts, starting with Stalkers, about 12-minutes total with Maynard James Keenan, Lemmy, King Buzzo, and Jello Biafra. Dope Fiends gives ten more minutes to Trent Reznor, Ogre Nivec, Dave Navarro, and Jonathan Davis. Aliens flings 13 minutes to Casey Chaos, Paul Barker, and Big Al himself. All speakers contribute more of interest, so belly up!
Fans of Ministry should just go out and snap this up. It comes in a variety of flavors. We got the one with a bonus poster and CD, but I hear tell you can get one with a T-shirt, too. Douglas Freel's documentary is immediate and unflinching in its portrayal of Alien Jourgensen, mostly. It's a case study in the arrested adolescence of rock-and-roll, bravely mining the depths. It also rocks like a mother. Hell, for the right crowd (you know who you are) this one should go into the DVD Talk Collector's Series.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com