Doco has grit, heart and soul

REVEALED: Backstabbing and a battle for control have been revealed in the making of a Shihad documentary.
REVEALED: Backstabbing and a battle for control have been revealed in the making of a Shihad documentary.

Directed by Sam Peacocke

You should see this film. It's the best music documentary that will ever come out of New Zealand. It has grit and heart and soul -  and then there is the manipulation, the rewriting of history, the candidness that becomes a cover for what is tantamount to backstabbing. It's all here. Shihad is New Zealand's best live act. And the Wellington-born rock/metal band has been at it for nearly 25 years. That is reason for praise. Reason enough for this documentary.

There is not a lot of music to be seen -  or heard - as part of the film and though that might bug some fans, it should make the film all the more appealing as a general documentary; a feature film about the lives of four Kiwis. They just happen to be in a band. Add to the story the death of a manager, a name-change that felt like betrayal, a singer prepared to think about selling out, a drummer who won't let that happen on his watch, a guitarist who swaps alcohol for yoghurt so that the band can continue and a bass player who was the band's biggest fan (that's what got him the gig) and ends up being the most scathing about frontman Jon Toogood's botched joke-attempt on stage in America; the buzz-kill that contributed to Shihad-as-Pacifier's failure stateside.

All of this is beautifully framed with the families of the band members providing touching moments of sincerity.

And the musicians know their roles off-stage. Toogood (vocals) plays the poet-fool; Tom Larkin (drums) is the defacto-manager and driving force Karl Kippenberger (bass) is the fan-boy turned band-member, it went from being surreal to a little too real for him; Phil Knight (guitar) is the film's reluctant star, daunted, drained, hen-pecked even, but proudly still there to serve the music.

For all the attempts to swerve the narrative towards Toogood's lyrics, loved-up doggerel it doesn't have the prescience that he and the film's makers would have you believe. It's even when Jonny-Boy is happily hamming up a faux-troubadour gimmick, performing the songs to camera in solo acoustic renditions. It's Knight that burns into the soul. Staring out with an intense introversion from the front lawn with his partner who he is sure would never have given him the time of day if he was still drinking. It's Kippenberger helping his mum in the garden, still amazed he's part of the band he used to go and see. And it's Larkin at home with his partner and child, the band's goalkeeper, always aware of the score.

Three musicians that are somehow just right for each other and their frontman  the best in the country by some distance. And this is everything that has happened around keeping them together. Shihad: Beautiful Machine is about so much more than just the music. And just as well.

Related story: Shihad documentary opens in Wellington

The Dominion Post