“Overkill”. “Iron Fist”. “Killed by Death”. “Ace of Spades”. When the subject of your documentary film is the author of such seminal heavy metal/punk classics and the frontman of the band that made them famous and has been going strong for over thirty years, the temptation would be to focus on the music and its impact on the history of rock’n’roll. Inevitably, in a film that runs two hours, some of that sneaks in, but co-directors Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski wisely zero in on the man himself and have created Lemmy, a documentary about Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, a fascinating individual in his own right who just happens to be the singer/bass player of Motorhead.
Which is not to say that hearing from such musicians as Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Nikki Sixx, Dave Grohl, Slash, and Metallica, among others, isn’t interesting, as it does give one a sense of the band’s – and the man’s – importance in the annals of rock history. Indeed, throughout the film there are interviews with Lemmy’s ex-bandmates from his early days in The Vickers, a pop group that many people said were on a level with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but that never broke big due to their reluctance to tour outside of their frendly local confines in England. From there Lemmy went on to become a part of space rock band Hawkwind and we hear about how he was fired by the band pretty much because his drugs of choice did not gel with the rest of the band’s drugs of choice. He would miss tour buses, get arrested, all the typical rock star stuff. And of course there are plenty of tales of people trying – and failing miserably – to keep up with Lemmy’s legendary ability to consume vast amounts of alcohol without even becoming slightly incoherent, let alone drunk.
But the most engrossing parts of the film are the scenes of Lemmy going about his daily business, shopping for Beatles CDs, taking us on a tour of his hoarder’s delight of an apartment, playing the slot machines, and hanging out at The Rainbow Bar & Grill, a favorite haunt of many a scenester on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. In fact, when he’s not recording or out on tour, Lemmy can be found there just about every day, drinking his Jack and Coke and playing the trivia machine. As many fans know, Lemmy is a huge afficianado of World War I and II, and part of his apartment is dedicated to his collection of Nazi paraphernalia (among them, a New Year’s card from Hitler given to Lemmy by Ozzy) and war-era knives. Swastikas abound, but Lemmy needlessly points out that he’s no Nazi, he just likes the look of the German uniforms and regalia. In fact, this is the way Lemmy leads his life: a simple existence where he does what he wants when he wants without giving a thought to what others think about it. ‘Live and let live’ in its purest form.
In perhaps the film’s most touching and hilarious scene (there are more than a few, especially of the hilarious variety), Lemmy sits in his apartment before the cameras with his son Paul, discussing how they met when Paul was six and how Paul’s mother used to date John Lennon before Lemmy. Lemmy says that George Harrison had an eye for her, but he thinks that she liked Paul McCartney and settled for John and that the relationship didn’t last because she probably blurted out McCartney’s name during an intimate moment. He caps this off by asking his son why he thinks his mother named him Paul. And just like that, Lemmy’s absurd tale of a Beatle love triangle actually seems logical. The man has a great sense of humor and a dry wit that is always on display and makes for some entertaining viewing. And Lemmy is a film best seen with a large audience. At the film’s Canadian premiere at Fantasia, hosted by Orshoski, the crowd hooted and hollered every time a rock icon appeared on screen; they gasped at the sight of a bloated Sebastian Bach, and even heartily booed Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. Well-loved as a unique character by his peers in the industry, Lemmy Kilmister is a man who doesn’t see the glass as half empty or half full, as long as he gets to drink it and order another one.