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Expert Opinion: Mortals Rocker Elizabeth Cline on Heavy Metal in the Movies

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Elizabeth Cline, author, movie-lover and guitarist for the Brooklyn-based heavy-metal band Mortals, on how to tune in to flicks that really rock out.

Q: If you were going to turn a friend on to heavy metal, is there a documentary you’d recommend?

A: There are so many! I would say the best introduction to the genre, its origins and its fans would be the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. It follows a Canadian anthropologist and metalhead named Sam Dunn around the world as he interviews metal fans, bands and the founding fathers of the form—such as Tony Iommi, the guitarist of Black Sabbath and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. The flick shows the diversity and passion and vast scale of the global metal scene. Secondly, I would suggest watching Lemmy, a 2010 documentary about the iconic bassist and singer of Motörhead. At 68, Lemmy has witnessed and fueled the evolution of rock and roll and metal in his lifetime. How he’s still doing it is anyone’s guess.

Q2: What are your feelings about This is Spinal Tap? Stupid fun or genius satire?

A: Undoubtedly genius!! It’s part of the fabric of the metal community at this point. It’s spot-on to the experiences and ridiculousness and indignities of being in a band: Cancelled gigs, playing to empty rooms and the inevitable bickering with your bandmates, who know you way too well. Musicians appreciate the gear-geek humor in it too—like Nigel’s guitar collection that he doesn’t even like people to look at and of course his Marshall amp with a volume knob that goes to 11. Pretty much everything Christopher Guest has been associated with has an absurdist sense of humor that I love. I recently rewatched Spinal Tap and was laughing hysterically at the scene where Jeanine presents the band with a binder to help organize their tour, and it turns out she’s made astrological charts that predicts how their shows are going to go based on the Zodiac—it’s like the most useless thing she could possibly do. So funny.

Q3: Have you ever discovered a heavy metal band through a movie?

A: Not so much, but looking back, there are so many movies from the ’80s and ’90s that are a crash course in hair metal, early thrash and New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Virtually every horror and slasher movie during that time period had metal soundtracks, as the two genres really evolved in tandem. Motörhead has a tune in Hellraiser 3, Anvil and Obsession’s music was in Sleepaway Camp 2, Alice Cooper’s music is in one of the Friday the 13th movies, just to scratch the surface. But even mainstream action movies had metal in them. Last Action Hero starring Arnold Schwarzenegger featured music by Anthrax, Megadeth, Queensryche and Tesla. And then Jim Carrey crowd-surfed to Cannibal Corpse in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective back in 1994!

Q4: Women are woefully underrepresented in the heavy metal genre. Are there movies about female metal heads that you particularly love?

A: Women are much better represented in punk and rock ‘n roll. The Punk Singer is an excellent documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the front person of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. Hanna is totally fearless and she remains one of the most compelling front people I’ve ever seen live. I also love The Runaways movie. Joan Jett and Lita Ford are great musicians, but what’s intriguing to me about the Runaways’ story is that they were international rock stars by the age of 18; that is mind-blowing. I felt like the movie captured adolescence and fame at that vulnerable age pretty well.

Q5: If you could do a heavy metal soundtrack for any director who might that be and why?

A: If we’re talking about curating a metal soundtrack to a movie, I’d like to do one for a Warner Herzog documentary. I love how subtly brutal his stuff is; Herzog has a way of really digging into the bizarre undercurrents of people’s psyches in movies like Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World. To me, metal taps into something very raw in people—it circumvents people’s rationality, so that’s why I can see it fitting nicely into a Herzog flick.

Q6: What’s your favorite use of heavy metal music in a movie?

A: I would have to say Gummo, the 1997 movie by Harmony Korine and starring Chloe Sevigny. The movie samples a small piece of a 25-minute long Burzum song that is so creepy and dystopian. Burzum is a one-man Norwegian ambient, black metal project helmed by Varg Vikernes, one of the most notorious characters in all of music. It’s beautiful music, but it also underscores the sociopathic and indefensible behavior going on in this movie. The whole soundtrack is a phenomenal list of extreme sludge metal and black metal bands, like Sleep, Bethlehem, Mortician, Bathory.

Ready to begin your own journey into the world of Metal? Check out the Mortals new album, ‘Cursed to the See Future,’ out July 9 on Relapse Records.

Music lovers, not ready to stop listening just yet? You’ll want to update your playlist with the songs from RECTIFY.