- Heavy Metal at the Movies ed. by Gerd Bayer
London: Routledge, 2020: 214pp.
Popular music is a central aspect of contemporary cinema. From the live performances recorded in documentaries to the cinematic scoring of narrative film, there are few frontiers left for popular music in this medium. And yet, more recently, our understanding of this relationship has had to be a little more focused, narrowed. Through the film auteur – Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Jordan Peele – considerations of popular music and cinema have needed a pointed focus on particular audio-visual moments. At cinematic junctures throughout the films of directors like these, it is the popular song as a musical artefact that takes centre-stage. This is mirrored, at least in part, in the now omnipotent Marvel cinematic universe. In the Iron Man trilogy (2008, 2010, 2013), the Guardians of the Galaxy duplet (2014, 2017), and the standalone Captain Marvel (2019) film, the audience follows the onscreen heroes through their journeys with the support of the popular song. This is most obvious in the first of the Guardians of the Galaxy films in which the lead character, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), uses a cassette tape and player for personal, emotional support.
In Heavy Metal at the Movies editor Gerd Bayer offers a view of the relationship between popular music and cinema that applies a specific lens. In this work, Bayer and a collection of interdisciplinary authors explore heavy metal culture and its shaping of a diverse body of films. As a collection, Bayer’s Heavy Metal at the Movies seeks to ‘shed light on the possible areas of interaction between film studies and heavy metal research’ (p.1). Across eleven chapters and an introduction, the book focuses specifically on ‘how the audio-visual medium of film relates to, builds on and shapes metal culture’ (p.1). As Bayer notes, heavy metal music and culture has become a burgeoning area of study in recent years. So far, and rather expectedly, the main body of this literature is concerned with either musicological or sociological approaches. Bayer points to Heavy Metal (1991) by Deena Weinstein, who has herself contributed a wonderful chapter to this edited collection, and Robert Walser’s Running with the Devil (1993) as early case studies in such an approach to the genre and culture. More recent research has taken a cultural-studies type approach, with a focus on issues like gender. This is not to say that there has not [End Page 203] been any consideration of heavy metal and the celluloid. After all, like popular music more generally, heavy metal has developed with an inherent audio-visual aspect. Beginning in film with Rob Reiner’s rockumentary This is Spin̈al Tap (1984) and on television with MTV’s ‘Heavy Metal Mania’ (1985–1986) and ‘Headbangers Ball’ (1987), the genre and culture fully arrives in the popular American consciousness with 1992’s Wayne’s World. Bayer notes that, ‘standing as a turning point in the long history of cinematic engagements with this music genre’, Penelope Spheeris’ film draws together metal TV and cinema in one space and with that leaves a lasting effect on the reception of the culture onscreen (p.1). Prior studies have been largely non-academic, Bayer contends, citing David Konow’s Bang Your Head (2002), Ian Christie’s The Sound of the Beast (2004), and Mike McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies (2014). Bayer’s collection not only moves the study of heavy metal towards a deeper, more scholarly understanding of the subject but does so from the vantage point of Wayne’s World, in which the culture itself features on film. Indeed all of the chapters consider not just the use of heavy metal on the soundtrack but the presence of heavy metal culture on screen.
The book’s eleven chapters are split into three sections: ‘The video star and other bodies’, ‘Fact or fiction’, and ‘Metal around the globe’. The first of these sections collates three chapters that explore how ‘cinematic metal bodies reach out to their viewers through means of violent encounters, subversive sexual identity formations or...