'Icon, noun: a very famous person or thing considered as representing a set of beliefs or a way of life.'
The dictionary definition above perfectly describes Lemmy. His single-minded tenacity in pursuit of the Motörhead cause has led to him becoming, rightfully, a heavy-metal icon. The only other rock stars who rival him as icons are dead ones. And they cheated. Lemmy, on the other hand, earned his iconic status the hard way: by living and staying true to himself at all times. He is a walking, talking, drinking, pill-swallowing, smoking, war-obsessed, bass-rumbling, gravel-throated monster. So that's Lemmy the man...what about Lemmy the movie?
I hoped this documentary would offer fresh insights into Lemmy the human being, perhaps exploring his softer side and showing facets of his personality that haven't been publicised. (What do you mean he doesn't have a soft side? We all have one...in some people, though, it's deeper down and better hidden.) Rush's 'Beyond the Lighted Stage' and Anvil's 'The Story of Anvil' are spellbinding due to the undiluted emotion they capture, which allows viewers to connect with the artists on a deeply emotional level. With Lemmy, however, displays of emotion don't happen. Some moments in the film approach poignancy, such as when Lem talks about finding the only woman he ever truly loved dead in a bathtub, the victim of a heroin overdose. He dishes out sage advice not to do heroin, but the viewer can sense that there are undercurrents of emotion beneath Lem's heavy-metal-robot shell. If I were the film-maker, I'd have explored that avenue more. During scenes where Lemmy and his son are together the awkwardness is palpable, as if neither father nor son is fully comfortable around the other. I felt uncomfortable watching some of these interplays, and found myself wishing they'd give each other a hug as an expression of love. There is one genuinely touching moment involving father and son, but I won't disclose it in this review, as that would ruin the surprise for those who haven't yet watched the movie. Better to experience it for yourself.
We see Lemmy's apartment, his enormous collection of war paraphernalia, his favourite haunt (The Rainbow in LA), his routine, and meet several other big-name metal musicians (Dave Grohl, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Scott Ian, to name a few) who have been influenced by Mr Kilmister. The inventor of space rock, Hawkwind's Dave Brock (a surprisingly lucid man, considering the amount of psychedelic and hallucinatory drugs he has ingested), discusses Lemmy's time in Hawkwind and the reasons for their parting of ways. This isn't new information to seasoned Motörheadbangers, but the camera likes both Brock and Lemmy, and it's entertaining to hear these legendary stories straight from the horses' mouths.
The bottom line is that Lemmy - even though he doesn't bare the deepest, darkest parts of his soul - is magnetically watchable. The man, the facial hair, the boots, the tight-black-jeaned swagger, the perpetual cigarette, the Jack 'n' Coke, the Rickenbacker bass and, of course, that growl. If you're a longtime fan of Lem and his music you won't learn anything new watching this film. You won't see any gushed outpourings of emotion and tears. You will, however, be entertained.
As a footnote, I've been a Motörhead fan since I was in primary school. I own all their albums, have seen them live countless times, and was lucky enough to meet Lemmy backstage at Glasgow Barrowlands after a gig. He was a consummate gentleman, and I came to understand why people - even critics - generally have nothing bad to say about the man. What you see is what you get. There's no contrived rock 'n' roll debauchery. While he may keep his rawest emotions hidden behind a protective shell, Lemmy is friendly, honest, and walks it like he talks it. In short, he's one of the good guys.