The most gripping documentary I’ve watched in forever. I’ve already told all my friends about it, so I might as well tell the teeming multitudes of readers here, too.
The story is of Iraq’s first and only heavy metal band and their attempts to stay alive, sane, together, and get the fuck out of there. There’s only scattered footage of the band playing (they could only play ten shows in eight years due to the various impediments, from no electricity to fundamentalists threatening to kill people to rockets from Apache helicopters destroying their practice space and all their equipment).
It’s just numbing to see what kind of hell they lived in, even if you have been reading about it for the last five years. Planes approaching the airport have to come in at 27,000 feet and do a corkscrew dive to the landing to avoid being shot down by insurgents. The two guys going there to film this have to be escorted everywhere by twelve armed guards for $1500 a day while wearing bulletproof vests, being told to expect sniper shootings when out driving, being told to stay away from windows. The vocalist and bassist are best friends since childhood and live fifteen minutes apart, but at the time of one visit by the crew, haven’t seen each other for six months because walking down the street to the other’s home would result in being shot or kidnapped on the street. Other offenses that would result in them meeting up with bullets at high velocity: wearing metal bands’ t-shirts, wearing goatees instead of beards, growing long hair, being seen talking to visiting Westerners. One store that sold musical instruments closed down because of death threats from fundamentalists. The aforementioned rocket attack on the building where they practiced. Machine gunfire in the background while they talk to the camera outside an apartment complex. Six million people in a country of 26 million are either dead or in exile. Almost one fucking quarter. These kids have spent almost their entire lives dealing with the brute reality of American occupation and off-and-on bombing and sanctions while living under Saddam, only to see it get worse. And yet, they’re still warm and friendly to these visiting journalists from Canada and NYC. Can you imagine your typical American being hospitable to a visiting foreigner from a country that had been attacking us for the last two decades while killing or scattering 75 million of us?
It’s touching and somewhat surreal, then, to see this almost childlike, pure faith in music that gives them hope and strength in the midst of all this. I thought I lived for music, but even if I could have all my current collection and then some, I’d rather commit suicide than live through all that. They end up going to Turkey by way of Syria in hopes of finding a place where they can actually play shows and go to a recording studio, while dealing with the stress and anxiety of being homesick exiles at the mercy of bureaucrats. They can never go home again thanks to the international coverage their story attracts; they’d be shot on sight. They’re incredibly upbeat throughout the film, but at one point, while they’re trying for official UN refugee status in Istanbul, the drummer starts to feel despondent over the thought that they might come so far only to be split up and sent to different cities in Turkey, where none of them know the language and feel like retarded cavemen, as he puts it. He says, “Nobody wants us. Nobody will just let us be. Iraqis are like the plague of the world. Why don’t you just fucking nuke us all and be done with it already?” Knowing that members of some of the American bands they idolize, like Metallica and Megadeth, have expressed a desire to do exactly that almost made me cry at that point.
And if it doesn’t fill you with a burning desire to go string up every last member of the Bush administration from lampposts and use them as piñatas, you must not be human.