Nether Regions 09.13.11: We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'N' Roll
Posted by Chad Webb on 09.13.2011
The first edition of the column in the music-zone explores Penelope Spheeris’ ultra-rare documentary about Ozzfest '99 from 2001.
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
WE SOLD OUR SOULS FOR ROCK 'N' ROLL
Featuring (as themselves): Black Sabbath, Slayer, Rob Zombie Directed By: Penelope Spheeris Running Time: 88 minutes Original Release Date: January 19, 2001 (Sundance) Missing Since: Never Released Existing Formats: Never Released Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Very very Rare
In 2001, Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris released a documentary called We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'N' Roll, which chronicled the travels of the Ozzfest tour and festival in 1999. Sadly, this documentary has never seen the light of day, and is extremely rare. The only way to see it is on YouTube, and normally I wouldn't promote films and documentaries that are posted there, but it's that or nothing in this case. Spheeris is the same woman who turned down the opportunity to direct This is Spinal Tap, claiming it would be impossible to make fun of heavy metal. I wonder if she regretted that decision after witnessing the hilarity and insanity of Ozzfest ticketholders.
Director Penelope Spheeris.
This particular year of Ozzfest took place in 25 cities and featured around 17 acts total. Black Sabbath was the headliner. The documentary begins and ends with footage of Ozzy Osbourne, the centerpiece of the festival. A shot of him on a plane with sunglasses on quickly transitions to him dripping wet, wide-eyed, on stage in a state of euphoria as he gazes out into the mass of humanity, some of whom refer to him as a genuine God later in the documentary. Spheeris fields the questions and conducts the interviews herself, swiftly chronicling the background of the festival. It was the brainchild of Ozzy's wife, Sharon, and the metal legend himself thought she was crazy, but it grew and grew into a mammoth success.
Spheeris does an excellent job of exploring the entirety of the festival by covering the bands, the craziness of the fans, and even the freak show act in the tent area. The central theme of this effort is longevity, how Ozzy and Black Sabbath have stayed around for so many years. Spheeris asks most of the bands whether or not they think they will be around for 30 years. It's intriguing to see their responses knowing the status of certain acts over 10 years later. Wayne Static and the members of Static-X are obviously unsure, whereas Slayer jokingly comments that (at that time) they already passed the halfway point, so going for 30 years is not a big deal. There are sporadic, but rather eye-opening conversations with Ozzy, who wonders where the time went.
Perhaps my favorite moment of the documentary is the segment on Slipknot, who visit the Lincoln Memorial during the D.C. stop on the tour. The image of each member walking in a straight line past the perplexed crowds is pretty hilarious. One little girl says that Mick resembles Rob Zombie, and she gets flipped the bird as a result. The drummer from System of a Down explains that he would play nude for every show if possible. When Spheeris asks if that would be sticky, he says he would use a towel on his chair. Sadly, the Deftones are not focused on longer, but there is a wild scene where frontman Chino is singing right on top of the crowds and nearly gets dragged over the barricade by some stupid fan. He gets very angry, and as this is during the track "My Own Summer," he shouts "Shove It!" at the person as loud as he can. Other groups that pop up are Fear Factory, Primus, Godsmack, and Rob Zombie.
There are a vast array of fans that attend Ozzfest, some normal, some overly passionate, and some downright psychotic. Of course the amount of females willing to bare their breasts are incalculable, and when Spheeris questions why, they simply reply "Just having fun." The director even interviews the groupies, who shockingly don't care for the term. Spheeris talks with Sharon Osbourne what the point of these devoted followers really is. A few people were filmed after they scaled the barb-wire fence to enter, and proudly flaunt their deep cuts from accomplishing this. On a random note, don't wear Tommy Hilfiger clothing if you go to one of these, as one poor sap discovered. Footage of the waiting line before the gates officially open is shown, while the employees look on with an expression of sheer terror on their faces.
The security guards are the ones who must contend with thousands of eager listeners, and there is an informative portion that exhibits the guards behind-the-scenes, preparing for the start of the day. What makes the documentary engaging and fun to watch is that Spheeris does not just sit back and observe the bands performing. There are lots of performances, but she explores every nook and cranny of Ozzfest. The bus drivers have a few minutes to shine, and one mentions that he's been a bus driver "since Moby Dick was a minnow." Various members of the Ozzfest crew are also given a brief spotlight, such as Production Manager Dale Skjerseth and "Pyro" Pete, whose duties are self-explanatory. A funny moment has Black Sabbath getting a demonstration of the pyrotechnics that will be featured during their closing set, and Pete explains that all of it that everything will be coming down on drummer Bill Ward.
We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'N' Roll is a sharply made piece about a genre of music that many non-fans would dismiss, but I would recommend this to anyone. It's educational as far as heavy metal is concerned, but also on what it takes to construct and tear down a "traveling circus," and why certain artists remain worshipped by new generations as the decades roll by. Penelope Spheeris understands why Ozzfest is different, and accentuates those elements throughout the documentary. She moves from person to person with humor and affection. Not everyone adores Ozzfest, as misguided Reverend Stan Craig and his clan of protesters prove to viewers. A year previous, a similar documentary was released called My Generation, which was about the resurgence of Woodstock in 1994 and 1999. That title is harder to find than this one. There's just something fascinating about people's behavior when they gather for a festival packed with musicians they worship as idols. And in a sense, We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'N' Roll is an edgier, updated spawn of Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock documentary (1970).
Ozzy and Sharon: the centerpieces of Ozzfest.
The timeframe of this documentary is significant. This was two years before The Osbournes would change television, so the footage of young Jack and Kelly, along with the mastermind Sharon, was new and exciting. Seeing the Prince of Darkness recite his lyrics from two huge teleprompters, hobble around backstage, and regularly ingest herbal supplements and oxygen prior to going on, was like peering behind the curtain to reveal the real Wizard of Oz. In fact, the final shot is of Ozzy, with his dogs, heading home with the family. Still, he's always entertaining, as are the rest of the members of Black Sabbath, who fondly recall all the times they tried to set Bill Ward on fire. We also meet Tony Dennis, Ozzy's longtime personal assistant, whose duties include handling his "piss bucket."
I've actually never been to Ozzfest, but after seeing this, I wish would have driven the extra miles one year. I have been to festivals, and have seen most of the line-up (including Black Sabbath) featured in this documentary, but on their own. I can safely say that when you mix hot and humid temperatures, mud, alcohol, and the congestion of sweaty bodies, people tend to act differently. The consequences of these actions are getting head wounds in the mosh pits, heat exhaustion, and potentially overdosing if drugs are your bag. There was definitely not a shortage of work for the medical personnel on this tour.
Numerous music and concert documentaries hit stores/theaters each year, but not every filmmaker has the desire and love for the music like Penelope Spheeris does. Hard rock and metal were prominent in Wayne's World, but her forte was/is documentary filmmaking. I urge you to check out her Decline of Western Civilization trilogy if you can find them. It's a shame We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'N' Roll has not been released at all, and I would guess that is not likely to change. A 10th Anniversary Ozzfest Blu-Ray was released in 2008, and Spheeris' doc could have easily been tacked onto that. Sharon Osbourne produced this, so why has no one tried to do something with it? The reasoning is probably "Is there a market for it?" The late 90's was an important era for music. A lot has changed since then, and it would be nice to have this (or My Generation) available. Regardless, this is a smart, enthralling, and amusing glimpse at the growth of a music festival into a giant extravaganza. Just stay away from the dude with the shirt that reads "Lick My Swinging Sack."
To conclude, one of the roadies offered his philosophy on his job:
"If it's wet, drink it, if it's green, smoke it, if it moves, fu** it, and if it doesn't, throw it in the truck."