In our regular column, Less Than (Five) Zero, we take a look at films that have received less than 50 logged watches on Letterboxd, aiming to discover hidden gems in independent and world cinema. This week Felix Hubble looks at Douglas Freel’s Fix: The Ministry Movie.
Date Watched: 16th February, 2016
Letterboxd Views (at the time of viewing): 38
Band documentaries are haphazard at the best of times, far too often simple fan service rather than fully formed cinematic experiences. At best, you get a film like DiG! or Metallica: Some Kind of Monster – an objective and critical snapshot of a band at a particular point in their career, exploritory and non-glamourised, tracking the highs and lows of success – or something akin to Gimme Shelter – a document of a particular point in history that sees the cultural tides turning, with the band’s performative aspects almost ancillary to the main action. At worst, you get something akin to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – little more than an infomercial/concert-film hybrid, sure to please its core audience while abhorring others. Fix sits firmly in the former camp, despite a few minor misgivings and the occasional deification of frontman and mastermind Al(ien) Jourgensen – more a tale of addiction than a retelling of the band’s technical history, Fix places us front and centre of an infamous 1996 tour as Jourgensen’s heroin addiction bleeds into every facet of his life, and strains relationships with those around him.
Director Douglas Freel comes to the project having previously directed music videos, mini fan-centric band documentaries, and compilation tapes for Faith No More, Metallica, and Def Leppard (among others), as well as a tour film and music video compilation for Ministry themselves. It’s almost shocking, given Freel’s more “enthusiastic press” background, that Fix is this impressive, even more so considering that the project was cobbled together using old footage he shot 16 years before the documentary’s completion and eventual release. Within that footage – intercut with recent interviews with other genre heavyweights including Tool and Pucifer’s Maynard James Keenan, Nine Inch Nails’s Trent Reznor, and Jane’s Addictions’s Dave Navarro, whose views on Jourgensen seem to have softened with hindsight – are nuggets of pure gold, perfectly encapsulating the mayhem and havoc of the Ministry experience, while contextualising it through its talking heads intermissions. We see Jourgensen shooting up, spouting conspiracy theories, sourcing groupies, copulating with a roast chicken, all expertly captured in raw, digital black and white by Freel. Not all shocks are visceral in Fix however, with many coming in the form of wholly unlikely cameos. Of particular note is the appearance of an old, wheelchair bound William S. Burroughs who, as it turns out, was great friends with Jourgensen, up until his death – likely due to the connection between industrial music and their fondness for the cut-up – as well as an outrageous anecdote from Jourgensen about being high out of his mind and causing mayhem at Johnny Depp’s Viper Room the night that River Phoenix had an overdose and died outside the venue.
For the record, while enamoured with the notion of Ministry, I am not actually a fan of their music – instead, my interests align more strongly with the rise and fall of heroin usage in the ’90s and the ways in which this practice intersected with the music industry, particularly in the world of grunge and industrial music. It’s an area in which this documentary delivers in spades, far less concerned with the creative process of the band than it is in the reality of being in a functioning, drug-addled unit of musicians touring across the world, and the emotional and physical toll this takes in an era when your band is playing the “hype” genre and the label money never stops. Fix provides the sort of insider perspective that explains how Jourgensen could sue Freel for screening the film at Cannes before he had approved the final cut, while still (assumedly, given the film’s eventual release) remaining on good terms with the director.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the feature came from the fact that there’s more to gain from Fix for those, like me, who are not Ministry fans, aware of (but not subject to) their reputation and therefore not swept up in the Ministry/Jourgensen hype, enamoured with their every action. It’s a scary movie, sure, and I’m sure many of Jourgensen’s band mates don’t look back at this period too fondly, no matter how fun it may have been at the time, however it is an undoubtedly fascinating one, potentially undeserving of its self-relegation as a fan film for the fans – likely one of the main reasons that it is so underseen. In a world of countless kickstarter documentaries, chronicalling the rise and fall of particular bands without any effort put into being wholly captivating cinematic experiences, playing out more like an animated wikipedia page/talking-head praise hybrid we need more films like Fix to cut through the monotony. In a world of Amys, we should be seeking out the authentic, the Fixs, the contemporary DiG!s and Gimme Shelters, while shunning the rest.