“Lemmy” rocks. Debuting documakers Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver barely hit a bum note in their hugely entertaining portrait of Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the legendary sixtysomething frontman for British hard rock trio Motorhead. Anchored by Kilmister’s wonderfully dry wit and utter lack of pretension, docu leaves no doubt as to why he’s admired by just about everyone who likes or plays loud music. Put this one down next to “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” as a rock doc with appeal way beyond its notional audience. Niche prospects are strong, and ancillary will be massive.
Following their mutton-chopped, gravel-voiced subject for three years pays off handsomely for Orshoski and Olliver. While delivering everything fans could wish for, the docu (which goes out later this year through Oz distrib Hopscotch) is enriched by Kilmister’s willingness to discuss personal matters and reflect with disarming honesty and humor on a life of drugs and booze that probably ought to have killed him years ago. Many viewers who’d normally run a mile from Kilmister’s crunching music will likely be captivated by the charming rogue who makes it.
Opening establishes Kilmister as anything but a distant rock god. A Los Angeles resident for more than a decade, he lives in a modest, rent-controlled apartment and spends most days at music-biz hangout the Rainbow Bar and Grill. An unabashed slot-machine addict, he makes do with the Rainbow’s electronic trivia machine and is the game’s top scorer. Only indulgence in Kilmister’s life seems to be his massive collection of war memorabilia; probed on his particular interest in Nazi paraphernalia, he says it’s purely aesthetic, and deadpans, “If Israel had the best uniforms, I’d collect them.”
Crisply cut package shrewdly eschews the linear approach. Viewers are given a good look at Kilmister at home and on the road with Motorhead before segs covering his 45-year career are smoothly woven into the framework. Impressively researched project digs up terrific archival material, and produces members of Kilmister’s ’60s combo, the Rockin’ Vickers, and influential space-rock outfit Hawkwind, whose ranks Kilmister departed in 1975 following temporary incarceration in a Canadian jail.
Like “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” docu examines tribalism and cross-pollination in the rock arena. Now nudging 35 years belting out a brand of noise with Motorhead that’s unaffected by trends, Kilmister emerges as that rare rock ‘n’ roll animal who’s a major inspiration to everyone from heavy-metal merchants Metallica to American hardcore/spoken word icon Henry Rollins and first-generation British punks Captain Sensible and David Vanian from the Damned. As Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction puts it, “Motorhead transcends movements.”
Amid endlessly quotable testimony from a dream cast of interviewees and Kilmister’s very funny responses to questions on such topics as his Lothario reputation, pic hits some unexpectedly poignant notes. Sequences with Kilmister and his son, Paul, and late revelations about his tragic past relationship, reveal a deeply human dimension to the man behind the microphone.
Though slightly overlong and with some shaky camerawork here and there, Orshoski and Olliver’s labor of love gets the key technical requirement right. Soundtrack transmits with crystal clarity every throbbing bassline and face-melting guitar attack by the band listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s loudest.