Sep 27, 2011
Margaret Smith, Gatehouse Media
In 1996, music video director Doug Breel rode along on tour with the band Ministry – a pioneer of the industrial sound that fused hard rock with high-tech innovations and influenced artist such as Nine Inch Nails.
What resulted was not simply a concert video or a documentary about the band’s work, but a visceral look at the band’s life offstage and backstage, revolving around volatile founder and front man Al Jourgensen, a film collaborator.
Some 15 years later, after a few artistic disputes and a dropped lawsuit by Jourgensen, Breel has released “Fix: The Ministry Movie,” which Breel, himself a recovered heroin addict, says is as much about the destructive spiral of drug dependency as it is about a particular band’s place in rock history.
The film will screen at the Regent Theatre in Arlington Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Footage of Jourgensen and other band members is pared with interviews of other artists, including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Jello Biafra of the punk band, Dead Kennedys, shot several years later.
Through archival and more recent sequences, the film offers a retrospective of the so-called alternative music surge of the early and mid 1990s.
Jourgensen remained the focus of the end until its formal breakup in 2008.
Breel recently spoke about the film and why he wants to offer a corrective to what he sees as a romanticized view of rock stars, especially those struggling with drug or alcohol problems.
What was the idea behind making this movie?
Because of my history as a music video director, which I had done for almost 30 years, people knew me as ‘the guy who would stay on the bus longer.’ They would hire me to do electronic press skits. They knew I would get along with the band.
Part of the reason for me, though, was that I was a former heroin addict. I had quit right before I got on the bus. I’m not a judgmental guy. I’m good with the camera.
The first idea was that Warner Bros. Wanted the same as usual – that I would go on tour maybe three days, do an electronic press kit. But once I was out on the road and getting to know [Al Jourgensen]…I realized very quickly that this was going to be one of those times when I would get really intimate stuff. I made a deal with my partner, Jeff Tainer, with Paul Barker[then the bassist for Ministry] and Al Jourgensen right then. ‘I’m either gonna go home right now, or I’m going to have ownership.’ It basically went into my garage for years and years.
Every so often Al would call and say, ‘Dude, let’s do the movie,’ and then he said, ‘Let’s not do it.’ Then he would go back to the other position – the love-hate thing of watching himself and his own debauchery, and the perspective of other guys who survived that era.
Not too much is left to the imagination. Why is this important to the telling of the story and was any of that a difficult decision?
The only thing I chose very early on not to use is the ‘sexy’ stuff [band members’ encounters with female fans on the road], which isn’t very sexy…I chose not to do that for several ethical reasons. These groupies, 15 years on, they’re mommies now.
Part of what I wanted to get across is, how juvenile you can be if you are a rock star. It is normal behavior for them. It wasn’t his [Jourgensen’s] worst behavior…It’s a movie as much about pathological narcissism as about rock and roll.
Did you have any ethical concerns about shooting people actively engaged in illegal activity, such as drug use?
He was worried at that time. He was on parole at that time, but he was amazingly cavalier. He would look at the security at the border. He was infamous for being a coke and a heroin guy. Other people in the band were more worried of being near him.
I don’t think it was much of an ethical thing is. My goal was to de-romanticize or demythologize the silliness around heroin.
In the film some other artists, such as Jello Biafra and Trent Reznor talk about the excesses of drugs and the so-called rock lifestyle having a negative effect. They seem almost like the conscience of the film.
Was that by design or was your intent more to let people just talk about their experiences, whatever they were?
Hopefully I had some effect on that, especially with people like Trent. He is a thoughtful guy. I told him what I already had and what I was missing. I needed it to be more from the heart more. Jello is an interesting guy. He was never a party guy – though he is not always straight edge. It is interesting that you would pick those two out—as you say, the consciousness of the thing.
Some scenes are in color, and others are in black and white. What was the decision behind that?
For me it is pretty much just aesthetics.
I feel it is subliminal reminder that there is an historical perspective. If you think of them as black and white, you think of them as archival. It bounces from things done a few years ago, to things from 1996.
This is the latest documentary I’ve seen about a significant rock band. Do you think there is a movement toward more serious study of rock music as part of popular culture, and a need to archive a part of popular history?
This will sound like I am patting myself on the back—most times the band and the management of the company and the band—no one wants to demythologize the rock god.
We basically finished it at [Jourgensen’s house] three Christmases ago now.
We just went through every frame of the film. We bolted it down, every scene—stuff like that. Everyone who came to the house, he forced it on them.
There was this lawsuit and then he dropped that.
The music in the film is almost peripheral. For example, there is a snippet of ‘New World Order,’ which was probably Ministry’s most mainstream hit, and which was on MTV all the time. But mostly the music is like an afterthought. Was that a deliberate choice?
Warner Bros. wanted to know—it was just me, so they were wondering if I could cut a concert film…we cut [footage of] 13 songs together, so that exists, that is the other side of what you are suggesting, and then this one, which is more like a really intimate personality profile.
You were a heroin addict; was it hard to stay clean being around these people who were active users?
What I liken it to is in the film, “Clockwork Orange” – it’s like aversion therapy. [In the film, based on a dystopian novel, the main character is a violently anti-social youth whom authorities try to rehabilitate by using negative reinforcement.]
I was clean, and the camera basically made [Al] into a monster. It was a reflective of where I had come from. There was nothing redemptive for me.
So, you saw how addicts behave, from the perspective of someone who is clean.
I was a high-functioning junkie. I traveled around and made films. I was a cool guy…I don’t have gods per se, but it was perhaps kismet – the very first job offered me that has heroin shooting right through, in front of me, every day.
Did you ever worry that any of it would border on exploitation?
You know, especially with Al, I didn’t really worry too much. Sometimes, I would think, ‘I can’t use this, it’s not fair.’ With Al, I didn’t worry too much because I knew the time would come, later on, when we would be in an editing room, and he wouldn’t be able to romanticize it. If he didn’t want it in there, it wouldn’t go in….what I worried about more, though, was, what if we were filming and he’d OD. I’d say, ‘What am I doing, I am not here saving the guy.’ That occurred to me, many times.
A lot of the films about rock delve into the personal lives of the performers and sometimes it is very dark. Tell me what your film brings that advances the conversation.
In terms of making the film of a cautionary tale, Al does sort of become the poster child. He was the pirate king. He outdid everyone that way and seemingly got away with it. But maybe they really aren’t getting away with it.
If you go
WHAT Screening of ‘Fix: The Ministry Movie.’ Gigantic Pictures.
WHEN Wednesday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m.
WHERE Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington
COST $8 advance, $10 day of show
MORE INFO Call 781-646-4849 or visit regenttheatre.com
Margaret Smith is Arts and Entertainment editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit.
Read more: Ministry film to screen at Arlington’s Regent Theatre - Acton, MA - The Beacon http://www.wickedlocal.com/acton/archive/x981217199/Ministry-film-to-screen-at-Arlingtons-Regent-Theatre#ixzz1ZBfDYqHt