Heavy metal can make a strong argument for being the most beloved music genre. Along with a devoted fanbase and memorable songs, there seems to be a constant stream of documentaries about the loud and fast bands. Of course, this also leads to plenty of crossover. Every metal documentary boasts a number of interviews. Cum on Feel the Noize: The Story of how Rock Became Heavy Metal uses never before seen footage and a different approach to stand out from the pack.
Director Jorg Sonntag makes sure his documentary lives up to its name. Documentaries about music usually fall into one of two categories. They first type deals with the rise and fall of a band or musician. The other type is usually born out of a love for the genre. The “behind the music” documentaries are filled with salacious stories, but are all about style over substance. Passion projects eventually lose the sense of objectivity that is so important to documentaries.
Cum on Feel the Noize is a history of heavy metal. It almost sounds too simple. Hasn’t VH1 already done this multiple times? Instead of just a retrospective of guitar based music, Sonntag tries to tie all eras of music together. This is a great idea. Other films about the history of music have used a similar technique. Band A influenced Band B whose sounds can be heard in Band C.
Where other documentaries tell audiences influences, they are actually shown here. Starting with the traditional rock, Cum on Feel the Noize follows the trajectory through various underground scenes like punk all the way up until the large metal festivals of today. On paper, it does not sound like anything groundbreaking. The difference is Sonntag never just pays lip service to any one era. Each period seamlessly flows into the next. This is not a movie that can just be divided into “the punk years” or the “hair metal years”.
The other thing that makes the study different is it never solely focuses on one type of music. Even the best music documentaries will have a tendency to devote an entire segment to a small subset while ignoring contributions to the bigger picture. Cum on Feel the Noize is not just a history lesson. This is seen most when punk is introduced.
When it comes to punk, all music documentaries say the same thing. It was a form of rebellion against music that was too sanitized. Aside from one short clip (there must be a law somewhere that The Sex Pistols have to be mentioned whenever punk is discussed) Johnny Rotten’s group does not get mentioned. Cum on Feel the Noize speaks with members of the punk scene who talk about the bands that influenced them. It is a refreshing take that is never heard.
It is also amusing to hear about the punk/metal feud. Again, it is treated differently than other documentaries. There is no tried and true “we hated them and they hated us” talk. In its place are comments from prominent members of the metal community like James Hetfield. He talks about how even though Metallica never set out to be a punk band, they would use elements of punk to get attention from the crowds they played for. It may not be earth shattering, but these small changes make for a easier watch.
Cum on Feel the Noize: The Story of How Rock Became Metal is an excellent example of not having to reinvent the wheel. Director Jorg Sonntag uses the standard documentary formula to chronicle the evolution of rock music. By making small changes and treating the subject more like history instead of a series of music videos, the whole thing feels fresh and new.
And there are tons of interviews.