2013’s exceptional - and not unexpected - choice of ‘Searching for Sugarman’ as the Oscar Academy’s Best Documentary Feature reinforced what many of us music fans have been saying for years: we are living in the Golden Age of the music film. With the unmissable backing singers documentary ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ up for the same award and the Coen brothers’ ’60s New York folk scene period drama ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ also nominated that year, of late we have been truly spoiled for choice. To say that there are literally scores of great music documentaries making the rounds right now would be an understatement - and even if the genre is not always your bag, the subject matter can still be utterly compelling.
Rialto Channel’s upcoming collection of lovingly curated music documentaries – under the banner “Where words fail, music speaks” are a great reminder of some of the compelling films of late that fall under the music genre, and there just may be something in the line up for everyone.
The first to air is one for the metalheads like me, and comes in the form of AS THE PALACES BURN, showing December 1 on New Zealand television for the first time. The correct word to use when describing the documentary about metal band Lamb of God would be the same word I would use to describe their music i.e. heavy. But in a different way. The band set out with the intention of making a movie about how their genre of music has gone global, named after one of their most celebrated albums. Following a successful tour in the Czech republic, they decide to return to the country a year later whilst making the documentary as they have always had such a great response there. However, upon arriving at the airport the band are taken away by the authorities and lead singer Randy Blythe arrested and charged with the manslaughter of a young fan from the previous year’s tour. Completely blindsided, it was a death the band knew nothing about, and they are understandably in shock. Paroled only after lengthy negotiations (he was held for 38 days), Blythe opted to later return to Prague to stand trial, where he faced the very real possibility of a lengthy prison sentence.
This caused the project, which was originally meant for fans, to drastically switch tracks, turning it into an edge-of-your-seat legal thriller – and it’s a good one, with some incredible twists and turns. At the time Blythe's trial was only being covered by Czech papers, and this film does an incredible job of filling in all the blanks and providing the true version of the story.
We see plenty behind the scenes as the band rally together to find memorabilia to auction in order to fund Blythe’s defense, as well as his work with his legal team as he struggles to make sense of the crime of which he is charged. We also get see the heartbreakingly emotional final statement from the uncle of the young fan who died, a powerful speech where he states Randy ultimately was not responsible but that doesn't stop the loss and hurt his family ultimately feels.
One of the most powerful moments in the movie is when the final verdict is read and Blythe’s confusion due to the language barrier is palpable. The exact moment where Blythe learns he's exonerated is made even more powerful by the soaring, very personal score by Lamb of God guitarist and composer Mark Morton. Gripping stuff. In conclusion, the film is a fantastic insight into a terrible time for Lamb of God, whose fan base continues to grow on a daily basis. Time spent early on with a male fan in Colombia and a female fan in India discussing the impact the band's music had on them is heartwarming and real, but the courtroom drama - with an unbelievable twist – that follows elevates AS THE PALACES BURN above the usual music doco. Not a metal fan? Then watch anyway, as in the words of The Guardian’s reviewer: “even if you hate the music, there's much here to impress”.
AS THE PALACES BURN premieres 1st December at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel