AUSTIN — You don’t have to be a metalhead to love “Lemmy,” an awestruck depiction of a rock god whose eccentricities and longevity make him one of the music industry’s more fascinating characters. Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver’s film clearly is fan-made, but the testimonials they collect are wide-ranging enough, and their firsthand material entertaining enough, to convey the subject’s appeal to audiences beyond the metal crowd.
Lemmy Kilmister, whose band Motorhead stands alongside Black Sabbath as a forebear of heavy metal, emerges as a character who’s as strangely agreeable offstage as he is imposing behind the microphone. If the serpentine facial hair and fondness for Nazi memorabilia creates a scary facade, the
man is surprisingly soft-spoken and good-humored — and will talk with any fan who approaches him at Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip, where he sits for hours at end of the bar, playing a trivia game and downing cocktails.
In drug and alcohol consumption, Lemmy apparently rivals rock’s most legendary ingesters; in interviews with his old Hawkwind bandmates, we learn that he might not have been fired from that group had he just stuck with psychedelics. While he was with them, though, he helped make the band — according to Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, who describes Lemmy’s latter-day sound as the aural equivalent of a standing in a sandstorm — “the prog-rock group that punks were allowed to like.”
Useful biographical material helps establish the singer’s place in rock history, stretching back to his days as a Hendrix roadie, and interviews ranging from Ozzy Osbourne to Dave Grohl flesh out the picture. But the film’s most valuable footage is of Lemmy himself — shooting the breeze about the entertainment biz with Billy Bob Thornton, discussing his love life with the son he didn’t meet until the boy was 6 and test-driving a vintage German tank.
The filmmakers save most of their onstage footage (like Lemmy’s arena performance as the guest of Metallica, whose members idolize him) for the doc’s second half, ensuring that viewers with tamer musical tastes already are hooked once the Marshall amps start to bleed. The structure works perfectly, engaging newbies and the Motorhead cult alike. So what if Orshoski and Olliver never get around to explaining Motorhead’s nutty use of umlauts on album covers?
Production: Lemmy Movie LLC
Directed/produced by: Greg Olliver, Wes Orshoski
Cinematography: Greg Olliver
Editing: Greg Olliver
No rating, 122 minutes