I decided to re-watch this documentary and write a review at the same time. First off it is not a documentary for everyone. It covers some of the historical events and the perspectives of two key characters from the early 90s in Norwegian Black Metal: Gylve Nagell (Fenriz) and Varg Vikernes. Much of the success of the film is from choosing these two people as the key characters, they are an obvious choice given their historic importance and because they did not feature in any previous documentary. Importantly the directors do not take centre stage but rather let the characters speak. The narrative is interesting although not wholly linear; if you already know all the events then it will make sense but I fear that it may seem incoherent if you are curious but know nothing. There are also many historical tidbits which are less well known and likely to be new for everyone.
When I first heard of this documentary, circa 2006, I was highly sceptical of it. In fact I pre-judged that it would be terrible and there was, and possibly still is, a similar sentiment among Black Metal (BM) fans. I actually changed my mind completely after I read an interview with the directors given to Metal Hall website. It was then that I appreciated their artistic vision which was to let the characters speak without any external judgement from their part. This is one of the key successes of this film.
Most of the insights provided by the two characters will not be new ideas for anyone that is already an avid fan, instead what it does is allows them to voice their opinions in an interesting narrative and confirms most things that fans already new. Newcomers to the genre, or simple those that are curious about the film, will be able to grasp an understanding of what the music was about and why it became both popular and notorious. This is documentary is the most accessible work in any format. It clearly illuminates the philosophy of the music.
The philosophy, and politics, is infamously non-populist and very contentious which is only beaten in notoriety by the criminal acts of the early 90s. The sequence of events will be shocking for everyone the first time they learn what happens, from here some will become more interested while others will promptly run away. The process of learning is existentialistic: a process of either doubting or reconfirming your own ideals via a re-evaluation values. The logical conclusion of what I'm saying is not that you will, or even should, agree with the worldviews of the musicians but rather appreciate the necessity to think critically about society and the meaning of culture (and specifically music). Due to the sensationalistic tendencies of the mass media all such events and viewpoints have been distorted in order to sell more newspapers/ magazines (or whatever); yes, there will be an element of truth but gaining a clear understanding would require further research. However, this is where this documentary has no equal; to re-iterate previous points, it by-passes these distortions by allowing the characters to speak directly.
The plot of the narrative is roughly this: it opens with Gylve and continues to follow him through Oslo and then to Stockholm where he attends an art show about BM. Interspersed are clips from the interview with Varg where it seems that they have been given similar questions and a pseudo-dialogue occurs between the two. Recall that Varg was still in prison at the time. At one point we are confronted with the scene of an artist in California who talks about what he thought BM was and we see him give an interpretative dance. I felt this was superlative to the main narrative and perhaps only highlights the eccentricity that the genre attracts. Nearer the end we meet Frost who performs a weird visual art show in Milan which is also superlative to the main narrative but some may find it interesting if they seeking an understanding of the artists.
The main DVD includes an alternative ending and an out-takes reel. There is also a second DVD with extra footage, the BM 101 with Gylve is informative and gives a great historical overview of the relevant bands. The rest of the extras are deleted scenes which are interesting, for example in one clip Gylve explicitly details the downfall of Black Metal via its emergence as a popular trend, and so the bands that adopted BM essentially were antithetical to the originators.
After I had seen the film in the local theatre I was definitely of the mindset to promote it. Once I actually tried to converse with someone who was working the cloakroom at a local bar who was wearing a DarkThrone t-shirt (but otherwise looked emo) and he said he wouldn't watch that "poseur pi**". Incredibly ironic but it is worth looking at where some of these fears originally arose in the smarter members of the BM populace. As mentioned the first news of the film surfaced in 2006 which was about the same time Metal Headbangers journey was released, while we all laughed at Gaahl's scene fans felt short-changed by that director's opinions being imposed upon the music and also the populist (mass-market) style documentary that he created. On top of that there was talk of the Lords of Chaos book being made into a fictional film and potentially featuring someone from a teenage TV show (I forget who). Naturally there was suspicion, prejudice and enmity even among the wiser/more mature fans. However, do not let such fears put you off as they are misplaced.