A sort of “Decline of Western Civilization Part 3-1/2” for director Penelope Spheeris, “We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n’ Roll” lands somewhere between her prior music-related docus and a standard-issue concert pic. If it lacks the more penetrating subcultural scrutiny of the former, it also sports a good deal more wit and human interest than the latter. Preserving for posterity heavy-metal icon Ozzy Osbourne’s fifth annual OZZfest tour in 1999, “Souls” offers enough headbanging performance footage to satisfy fans, while bemused observation of the surrounding amphetamine-circus atmosphere will keep the idly curious entertained. Theatrical prospects will likely be limited to rep/campus dates; pic should have a long shelf life in cable and homevid markets.
Produced by Osbourne spouse Sharon — whose considerable track record and clout as a talent manager, record label owner, etc., is downplayed here, presumably so fans won’t see Ozzy as “whipped” — docu keeps things light without fully glossing over OZZfest’s sleazier aspects. The metal-themed fest was launched at a point when alt-rock Lollapalooza and all-femme Lilith Fair seemed to define public’s changing rock tastes.
To everyone’s surprise — even its own founders — OZZ instantly became the highest-grossing U.S. festival tour, defying fashion each year by drawing unwashed masses into the collective slampit. Take that, Tori Amos.
Woodstock-style peacenikkery is not on the menu here. Aud ranges from mullet-haired yahoos (some Ozzy devotees since his seminal metal unit Black Sabbath bowed 30 years ago) to powerlifting frat boy types; women, distinctly outnumbered, must be prepared to find “Show us yer tits!” the cry of the day. (Most seem quite happy to comply.) Major alcohol consumption, fights, stage-rushing, gate-crashing, O.D.s and other misbehaviors are rampant.
Part of OZZfest’s success has been due to its keeping current — “nu metal” groups incorporating rap, punk, funk and industrial influences are programmed alongside Ozzy’s own old-school heaviness. Of the 15 bands seen here, each heard for a song’s length or two, some are just derivative wannabes. Others boast musical chops (Primus, System of a Down) or over-the-top theatricality (masked “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” refugees Slipknot) to stand out from the pack.
Moshpit and stage-diving frenzy peaks during a set by veteran speed-metalists Slayer. Coming after them and burlesque horror-rock showman Rob Zombie, battle-scarred Ozzy’s climactic appearance (fronting a Black Sabbath reunion) seems rather embalmed.
“Souls” delights in contrasting the crowd’s hedonistic abandon with OZZfest’s “family business” backside: All-overseeing Sharon looks and acts like an unflappable corporate exec, the Osbourne children tag along to no apparent harm, while Ozzy himself makes no secret of his relief at having left bad old habits behind. (“Every time I did drugs, I overdosed,” he ruefully notes.)
While a few supporting acts keep the tradition of rock star excess alive, most are disarmingly humble and good-humored, as when newcomers Static X find themselves abandoned by both tour bus and driver. In full rasta-corpse regalia, Rob Zombie proves a charmingly droll, down-to-earth fellow offstage.
Spheeris has fun posing questions to inebriated attendees from behind the camera, and Christian protesters provide another amusing sidelight. While aud nudity, drunkenness and macho aggression glimpsed will leave many viewers glad they weren’t present, most unwatchable seg is a late one showing OZZfest second-stage act the Rev. B. Dangerous Freak Show, whose gross-out stunts lean heavily on self-mutilation.
Shot on high-def and digital vid, then converted to film, pic boasts exceptional technical polish, with terrific surround-sound recording of perf sequences.