SXSW Film ’10 Review – Lemmy

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Lemmy and God get into a fight. Who wins – Lemmy or God? Some might be inclined to say God. Others would say Lemmy. But there’s only one true answer: Lemmy is God.

For over thirty years Ian Fraser Kilmister (aka Lemmy Kilmister, aka Lemmy the Lurch) has rocked harder than any man has ever known. Spinal Tap may joke that their speakers go to eleven. Lemmy’s speakers go to “Lemmy.” Like Johnny Cash he’s a man in black, only he plays louder and faster. Like Frank Sinatra, he has done it his way; he hasn’t changed with the times.

In the documentary Lemmy directors Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver take us on the road with Lemmy and the band Motorhead and give us an intimate look at the heavy metal icon on and away from the stage. Blazing a trail through the burrows of the United Kingdom before making his way to the Sunset Strip, Lemmy is one of the few performers today that can remember when there was no rock ‘n’ roll. Consider that. Before Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, people were listening to the musical stylings of Rosemary Clooney.

The opening scene where we see Lemmy sitting in his two room flat in Los Angeles, playing video games and smoking a pack of Marlboros, elucidates the situation better than any voice-over narration or comment could possibly do. His life isn’t one of lavish luxuries – no mansion or sports cars. For Lemmy, partying like a rock star involves hanging out at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, where he sits on a barstool for hours playing a computerized trivia game where he retains the highest score.

Featuring appearances from rock luminaries like Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper, actor-musician Billy Bob Thornton and others, the comments they give expound on the rock legend. But it is the unfettered access that the directors have (they spent three years making the film) and the openness that Lemmy has about his life that make the documentary so extraordinary. Some of the stories he tells are so good, it’s just a shame I can’t mention them here. Not because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but because some of it isn’t fit to be printed.

Lemmy also excels at being both informative and entertaining, which is especially good for outsiders unfamiliar with Motorhead or heavy metal in general. Knowing the musician only by name and not for his impact on the music world, to learn that he’s a huge history buff when it comes to the First and Second World wars – his place is adorned with Nazi memorabilia – was quite a discovery.

With a two-hour running time the documentary continuously rises; there are no lulls. Orshoski and Olliver incorporate footage shot of Motorhead on tour along with vintage clips of Lemmy growing as a musician. Both show the transformation of the man many consider a god. Is such a statement farfetched? Seek out this documentary and find out.

Lemmy had its world premiere at Austin’s Paramount theater with Lemmy and the other members of Motorhead in attendance. The thousand-plus crowd was very appreciative of a film that was no doubt a labor of love for its directors. It’s the best mainstream documentary feature I’ve seen at South by Southwest and one of best pictures I’ve seen this year period.

Will I grow my hair long and bang it all day long? Not a chance. But I’ll definitely be watching this again.

Director(s): Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver
Featuring: Lemmy Kilmister, Ozzy Osbourne, ALice Cooper, Billy Bob Thornton, David Grohl, Triple H, Lars Ulrich, James Hettfield, Slash
Writer(s): Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver

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