SXSW Review: Lemmy

By  · Published on March 17th, 2010

Documentaries that rock, about people that rock. That seems to be my critical kryptonite. Despite the fact that it was silly and a tad schmaltzy, I loved Air Guitar Nation. Despite the fact that it was drab and unfocused, I really enjoyed It Might Get Loud. And now, despite the fact that it’s bloated and overstays its welcome in its last hour, I was absolutely blown away by Lemmy.

Directed by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski, Lemmy explores the real man behind the legendary figure that fronts Motörhead, Lemmy Kilmister. In its opening shot, we see wide-angle shots of Los Angeles. The sound is of some sort of video game – what sounds like a first-person shooter. It’s very confusing, as we came here to see a documentary about a rock god. Cut to the inside of Lemmy’s average-looking, cluttered LA apartment. He’s sitting there, grizzled, leather-clad and sporting his long-famous chops, playing a video game. As we are soon destined to learn, Lemmy is a lot more ordinary, and extraordinary, than you’d ever expect.

As I mentioned at the onset, Lemmy is a much longer documentary than it needs to be. In fact, it comes to several natural end-points, and takes advantage of none of them. Just when Lemmy, this rock god who has been delivered to us as an authentic, honest and often sweet human being, is about to walk off into the sunset the hero, we’re reeled into another Lemmy-venture. It’s a simple mistake that any young documentary filmmaking duo could make, and not one that we should hold against Olliver and Orshoski.

We wouldn’t hold it against them because of what they give us leading up to this film’s multiple ending, non-ending scenario. The deliver a documentary that breaks down the molds of what anyone loosely familiar with Lemmy and Motörhead would have known, and shows us the person behind the mustache. It shows us that Lemmy is a charming, sweet guy. And while he’s a guy who loves collecting Nazi memorabilia, he doesn’t fashion himself a member of the Hitlerites. As Lemmy explains, “I’ve had six black girlfriends. If I’m a Nazi, I’m the worst one you’ve ever met.” It’s this sort of levity that makes Lemmy such a fascinating character. In between rock shows, he’s taking his place by the trivia game at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. Even as he’s being shown as real rock ‘n roll – complete with drinking, drug use and womanizing – he’s seen being genuine about how he wouldn’t advertise that lifestyle, and he’s caught in endearing moments with his son.

That is perhaps the most fascinating thing about Lemmy the man, he is who he is. And as Foo Fighters and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl explains in one of his very funny talking-head moments, Lemmy doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He lives life the way he wants, and he’s always been about the music. He’s the essence of rock ‘n roll, and this film does a superb job of revealing that to the world.

On top of capturing intimate moments with Lemmy, Olliver and Orshoski also construct their documentary in a way that is interesting as well as illuminating. It isn’t just a bunch of talking heads, even though those talking heads are there. From funny anecdotes about Little Richard from Dave Grohl to hilarious stories about Lemmy’s daisy duke-wearing days from Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. The talking heads are interesting, fun and they add to the overall lore of Lemmy.

Finally, and above all – Olliver and Orshoski deliver a rock documentary that does, in fact, rock. They mix in a great, Motörhead-heavy soundtrack with the tale of the band’s frontman, and close with an awesome performance of “Ace of Spades.” Their success is one part fan service, one giant part energy. And it’s that sort of mix – one that will please fans and energize the average viewer – that make for a very successful music documentary. Like Lemmy himself, this film is a stone-cold rocker with grit to spare.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)