'Warts and All' - Lemmy: The Movie review

Posted by Alexander Hay

An at times flawed and flabby film still manages to give an unsung hero his due.

He knows he's born to lose, and gambling's for fools, but that's the way he likes it baby, he doesn't want to live for ever...

What should be known as The Great Lemmy Paradox is that we have a man who's one of the UK's most influential, famous and successful musicians, yet he's still treated like a pariah in his own country. 

True, heavy metal will never be cool (at least in Blighty). But remember all popular music, in the end, comes down to people standing on a stage doing odd things with their voices while their mates make twanging, banging or occasionally bleeping noises in the background. Still, Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead etc.) deserves at least one documentary and here, released just before his 65th birthday, it is.

Made over two years by a film crew who rather annoy him with their omnipresence, with interviews aplenty amongst the many musos he's influenced (including, believe it or not, one Jarvis Cocker), the film paints a surprising portrait. Lemmy is actually an oddly serene, resigned yet indomitable presence, at ease with his ramshackle but never dull life and his son Paul, with whom he has built a strong relationship - despite a never-ending life on the road.

Raised by his mother and grandmother, his relationship with booze, excess and womanising may yet surprise you. As he says in the film, he refuses to 'advertise' a lifestyle which has killed so many of his friends, and blanches at the thought of adultery. 

And while there's something heroic about a man with a nuke-proof constitution, who lives heavy metal without inhibition, wears Waffen SS tank commander hats and doesn't really care what you think about those warts, there's also something inhuman about him too, a one-off not bound by human frailty or mediocrity, or indeed fashion. We mere mortals can't and shouldn't try to be like him - as one fan puts it, if there's a nuclear war then only Lemmy and cockroaches would be left behind.

This is a man, after all, who is living rock 'n roll history. He saw Buddy Holly and The Beatles play live before they were famous, was influenced by Eddy Cochrane, started in a beat group called The Rocking Vickers, roadied for Hendrix, played in Hawkwind and then - just at the point most rockers would have gone to rehab or their graves - decided to form Motörhead, inventing modern metal in the process and influencing just about every hard rock act thereafter. (Even Ozzy Osbourne admits in the film that he's not sure if Motorhead, and not Black Sabbath, was the first true band in that genre.)

Cleverly, though, the film contrasts Lemmy's LA scene lifestyle with his rather quirky roots in Anglesey, and the man's passion for horses and military history. Some of the most interesting scenes in the film, in fact, demonstrate his in-depth knowledge of WW2 tanks and his impressive, though controversial Nazi memorabilia collection. 

Yes, comparisons will be made between this documentary and the one that hauled Anvil out of oblivion. The main difference being, of course, that Lemmy knows that you've got to function off-stage as well as on, but Lemmy The Movie also doesn't - to its credit - try to tell a story so much as just simply show us the man in some detail. The film's other strengths lie in its well shot, well edited presentation, which put the content together effectively and keep it varied without focusing too long on any one aspect. 

It isn't perfect though. There's nothing here, for example, that Lemmy's excellent 2002 autobiography, “White Line Fever”, hasn't already said and in more detail. At its worst, the film can also be a bit of a hagiography. While some of the interviews are informative or at least entertaining, others verge on the gratingly gushing and fawning, of the kind that would make Lemmy choke on his JD 'n Coke. 

And yet these celebrity soundbites riddle the film, like they're its justification, when really the scenes with Lemmy himself are usually much more interesting. 'Rockumentaries' should also be short and to the point, lest they become too self-indulgent or shaggy dog. At almost two hours long, Lemmy The Movie is far too flabby and rambling for its own good. 

In summary, though, it is an informative and fun film, with Lemmy giving the perfect riposte to our camera filled world: "Do you ever stop filming?" he growls to the director at one point, splashing aftershave on in his toilet and then turning on his singing fish as he walks off, mildly bored by it all.

Lemmy: The Movie is out now on limited release. Check here for times and places. It will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 24 January 2011. Go here to pre-order a copy.

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Alexander Hay


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