I haven't been writing much about other films because nothing has been stirring me. But I've watched this, and another film which I will surely tackle later, repeatedly, a zombie drawn to flesh, and I think it's because I'm hoping there is more material there than there is. As a metalhead, I know the rough story, and I have seen Sam Dunn's treatment of these incidents and probably some tv segments on it, but the only thing yet that has compelled me to do the research, or more importantly, listen to the music was this doc. Apparently, doing the research, reading interviews and journals, I listen to some of these guys' influences, but I even noticed when watching Sam Dunn's Headbanger's Journey that death metal is a big gap in my metal listening education where I haven't ticked off the canon.
The third time I watched this film - in the background because I find it so generic that I've never watched exclusively the film in entirety, only in pieces, plus I've listened and watched with the entirety in the periphery about eight or nine times as of now - I was also reading Varg Vikernes' burzum.org writings, and I realized I must get some of this stuff. As Varg intends with Burzum, each album is like a spell; Mayhem is raw and back to the real roots of metal; DarkThrone performs some ingenious feats of metal composition; and I thank the film-makers for impelling me to these aural introductions.
Now onto the bashing. Considering WHO these film-makers were given access to and how open most of the interviewees seemed, I think there needed to be more pressing questions for clarification in the many instances of homicide and arson being discussed. The film-makers I suppose will claim objectivity and I'm sure playing cool makes people reveal more, but there comes a point where you have to wield your power as the documentarian and uncover truths, use that whole "we're cool" relationship you've been building to find out the critical life and death information - the pieces of a documentary that make it soar in revelation, moments that this crew didn't get that were just ONE poking question beneath the surface. And this extends into their greater documentation of the feature players: They display the Dawn of the Black Hearts cover as a shocking endcap to the Dead "story" but never explain the story of that album's printing (which there are several stories but the only persistent link is that Euronymous wanted it made). The film alludes that Bard "Faust" Eithun may have killed a gay man in a hate crime but they never say that he was actually convicted of murder and served over a decade in prison; when they interview him, he appears in silhouette, without title, and voice distorted as he cryptically discusses church burnings (which on the Emperor site, his band, it declares that he went with Varg and Euronymous to burn the Holmenkollen Church the day after he committed the murder, and the film-makers let Varg talk casually about how Faust "sold him out" in jail).
But to bring it around to the subject which has me coming back to this film and that film-makers too are clearly a bit too enamored with him, Varg Vikernes is totally allowed to be just Varg, unchecked, which is sad considering his paradoxical existence, one that I think is more common than rare. As Burzum, Varg has composed some sublime songs (and this I recognized in one listening, which is rare) and he clearly has a rich intellectual life. However, Varg has political views that many other people would disagree with, views that he feels his government actively oppresses and jailed him for, but added to that is the intrigue that he killed a one-time bandmate and often business partner Euronymous (he claims self-defense and has a persistent story across interviews, police interrogation, his own site posts, but part of his story is this persistent reinforcement that Euronymous had become "useless" to the scene, inferences that Varg saw him as an inferior lifeform, "a braindead metalhead", and there is the added story, backed up by Hellhammer, that Euronymous was plotting to kill Varg, but Hellhammer also mentions that Varg was plotting to kill Euronymous). Everyone acts like the Euronymous issue is settled, but having served his time, Varg nearly boasts on his site that he did the world a favor by killing Euronymous, but regardless of how scummy he was, maybe someone - these interviewers - should take that opportunity when presenting when Varg is harping away telling his tale of killing Euronymous to interject, "Did you realize that when you pursed Euronymous with the intent of killing him, after he had fled the scene, and you were no longer in any danger, that you could no longer say you were defending yourself, that at that moment your actions shifted to voluntary manslaughter? Furthermore have you never considered that statements you've made yourself since Euronymous's death suggest a self-satisfaction enough to indicate motive for premeditated murder, not to mention the fact that you fled the scene, and were actively conspiring with Snorre (Mayhem's then guitarist) to conceal evidence of your trip and the murder?" They also never poked him about the burnings; no one really has, they just accept the story of "I joked about it to a press guy trying to sell records and he took me seriously and called the police, and then all these metalheads went with that story trying to sell more records". They just added those arson charges to Varg's sentence based on testimony of people who cut deals to reduce sentences and/or thought it enhanced the black metal scene to own up to church burnings. Like all of their subjects, with perhaps the exception of Gylve who feels like he is being prodded and examined by the crew, Varg is given an open podium (and the most screen time, which actually I'm fine with because even when he's not talking about the controversies he was involved in, his views on music are enlightening and his views on his society are just saddening/maddening). Maybe these guys have never had the chance to speak unchallenged on camera before (Varg certainly had no problem speaking on his site), but it just seems irresponsible and for me it is personally irritating to let Varg talk without any restraint from the interviewer, if not challenges on his views, at least there should be some prodding for expansion (though Varg is often a thorough guy; Hellhammer is probably the most guilty of needing provocation to expound). Varg's plight, and I think it sparks many black metal musicians in Norway, is that he sees his homeland becoming increasingly assaulted and permeated by foreign cultures, his native culture nearly destroyed by the bombardment, and he wants to protect his heritage. Being an American, this is hard for me to empathize with. Being a New Orleanian, this is much easier for me to understand, though the forces that threaten my culture are typically natural (and then political), and everyone assimilates into our local culture well without ruining the roux. The tragedy here is that people like Varg all over the world can rage against assimilation however they like, and I have no right to criticize how they counter-assault what is perhaps the most important losing battle for their nation/culture/race until their methods include physical violence and murder.