Director Jonathan McHugh talks to an assortment of performers, from groups like Metallica, Korn and Rage Against the Machine, as well as experts and fans for whom hard rock is their passion. The last bracket includes a billing manager in Ohio with young kids — who refers to festivals as “my therapy” — a couple that has turned crowd-surfing into a shared activity, and another enthusiast who discusses temporarily losing her prosthetic limb while sailing across a sea of hands.
Still, the documentary gives away its lack of objectivity with the subtitle “Celebrate the Chaos,” reveling in the sense of escape derived from collisions within mosh pits, with nary a mention of the number of hospital visits such pastimes might generate.
Instead, the academics focus on the tribal nature of the fan base and feelings of community, describing the bruising physical aspects of the associated rituals as a rite of passage. The bodies slamming together in mosh pits or the “wall of death” are really “a camaraderie thing,” says Korn lead singer Jonathan Davis, a way for attendees to “get their aggressions out.” And hey, as he notes, at least they’re not letting off steam by playing golf.
McHugh alternately seems to have approached the film as a valentine to hard-rock fans and as a sociologist seeking to explain the music’s customs to those who are strangers to it. The real missed opportunity, though, is in at least addressing the void left during a year in which the pandemic has deprived those profiled from this form of expression due to the uniquely crowded, contact-oriented qualities of such events.
There’s possibly a provocative documentary in that, but “Long Live Rock” finally feels like an ode to this tribal art form that doesn’t possess much appeal, despite its intentions, to those outside the tribe.
“Long Live Rock … Celebrate the Chaos” premieres as a virtual Watch Now @ Home Cinema Release on March 12 after its March 11 world premiere.