Saturday, September 5, 2009

Iron Maiden: Flight 666 [movie review]

* Released theatrically in April; now available on DVD
This documentary that covers the first leg of Iron Maiden's 2008 Somewhere Back In Time tour isn't particularly original, nor does it really shed new light on the rigors and tedium of touring for musicians. What is original is the method Maiden chose to transport their show from city to city (and even continent to continent). The band devised a concept to have the entire production's mobility encompassed in a single, self-contained unit - a Boeing 757. A year alone of planning with engineers went into figuring out a way to fit the band, management, crew, gear and stage production onto a single plane, eliminating the need for trucks and buses and saving money. Manage it they did, and the experiment was a success (not to mention a first in the music touring biz). The topper? Lead singer Bruce Dickinson pulls double duty as the co-pilot of 'Ed Force One', named after the band's mascot Eddie. The huge aircraft itself is an impressive (if not somewhat bizarre) sight, with the band's legendary logo adorning the side and the cartoonish horror of Eddie's face glaring down from the tail wing.
The day-to-day aspects of life on the road are interspersed with live performance footage of the band's classic songs. I'm a fairly casual Maiden fan, so the live portions carried a little less weight for me than the behind the scenes material. Some might find the latter a bit mundane and boring, but I've always been fascinated by tour docs and gaining an insight into the strange beast that is touring, with musicians having to balance the intense high of their two hours onstage with the grind of the rest of the day involving long travel, bad food, strange beds and a constant revolving door of new faces. Elements of this are captured well through scenes showing the band members keeping busy playing golf and tennis (how metal!), sightseeing, doing interviews and spending time with their families. A couple of short separate scenes highlight the monotony of the job, as bassist Steve Harris (looking amazingly well-preserved) signs photo after photo, passing them off to his son who holds a huge stack in his hands. Harris tells the camera "This is the second box and there's about another four boxes in back that I ain't done yet". The other scene shows Dickinson also on the plane while taking a break from his flight duties, quickly signing one photo after another and sliding them onto the floor in a massive and messy pile, waiting to be straightened up before they get passed onto the next band member. When a musician says that touring isn't all glamour then I assume this would be the type of activity they're referring to.
The tour's first leg covers 23 concerts that span 45 days over 5 continents, starting in Mumbai and finishing in Toronto. That type of routing would be impossible through traditional means. Heavy metal has always managed to transcend worldwide borders and Iron Maiden would likely be near the top of a list of bands whose reach knows no bounds. Their following in South America is legendary, reinforced by scenes from the film of them being treated as if they were The Beatles when entering or leaving their hotels and traveling through airports. A lingering shot following a show in Bogota, Columbia shows a grown man with long hair clutching a drumstick he caught and unable to control his emotions as tears run down his face. A woman beside him is also weeping. He makes the sign of the cross and then blows a kiss to the sky. Damn...and I thought I took my music seriously.
The fan reaction in India is particularly fervent, as the crowd sings along with the songs in perfect English. The global appeal of metal was the subject of an excellent documentary from the makers of this film, Toronto's Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden. Appropriately, it was titled Global Metal and served as follow-up to 2005's illuminating Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. The duo has demonstrated a real talent for capturing the appeal of this long disrespected genre and why metal fans follow it with such passion and Iron Maiden: Flight 666, while not groundbreaking as far as tour documentaries go, is still a worthy addition to their already impressive resume.
Rating: 7/10

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