What are we going to do? KILL!
What do we always do? KILL!
What do we need to do? KILL!
What do big dogs do? KILL!
...the Pre-Show Chant
Meat Loaf has been performing for decades, putting on intensely performance-heavy shows that not only strain his voice, but also any modicum of energy he has. Yet no matter how drained he might be, he makes it work, belting out long, classic, character-driven tunes and driving audiences wild. Each show begins with the spark created by the chant above. (At least, his most recent ones do.) Unfortunately, I don't think that Bruce David Klein had a rousing chant to help spur him into capturing the world of Meat Loaf for the concert documentary Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise.
The documentary follows the beginning of Meat Loaf's tour for Bat Out of Hell 3, 30 years after he rocked the world with the first best-selling installment. Considering Meat's stage work, one could imagine the world that such a documentary could create -- vigorous performances, pounding music, and just a little bit of drama. At the very least, I expected something with verve -- a doc that would tug you in from the first moment, and even if it couldn't pull you in with the excitement of a dramatic story, it would evoke the passion that has kept Meat Loaf going for all these years.
What you get, however, is a doc that will work for the fan, eager to see Meat Loaf and not caring what package surrounds it, but not for the person going for the full experience -- the moviegoer who wants the presentation to live up to the subject. The film is a collection of behind-the-scenes, straight-forward footage mixed with too-few glimpses of old-school Meat, a collection of black and white text-on-screen explanations, and a few awkward voiceovers from the director. As a feature-length extra on a DVD, this documentary would be fine, but as a big-screen documentary, it just falls short.
The film opens in silence and with a black screen. Instead of any of the memorable opening notes from Meat Loaf's song list, we're given simple sans-serif text in silence, telling us how long Meat Loaf has performed, then how many albums he has sold, and that this is the first time he's let a crew document his creative process. Through the last two screens, you hear dialing, ringing, and then Meat Loaf says: "I can't even... I couldn't even tell you what the show is," while Klein tries to work out their schedules. Starting off with this restrained unknowing is not how you introduce a viewer to Meat Loaf.
From there, we dip into Latin music and the opening credits. There's footage of Meat Loaf performing, but not one lyric or bit of music is heard. When we finally hear Meat address his fans on-stage, there's none of his classic music to go with it. This would be fine if it was followed by an explosion of said music, but instead, we're treated to a melodramatic score as Meat walks off-stage -- tired and weary. From the opening, one would think this is about Meat Loaf's fall, teasing ideas that he retired and walked away from performing. Sure, there's a place to discuss how much he physically wears himself down with these shows, but not at the get-go. Not as an introduction.
After this opening, the film jumps into the week of rehearsals that led up to the tour that kicked off in Canada. Immediately, Klein is asking Meat Loaf what this documentary is about, and incredulously, Meat Loaf tells him that he doesn't know what it is about -- that will unfold as time goes on. This pensiveness, mixed with voice-overs explaining that the performer has canceled interviews, is how we're introduced to the story. It feels like you're watching someone apprehensively wade into tepid waters. What is missing even more than a better filmmaker eye is the palpable feeling of passion or intense interest. It's just not there. You just feel insecurity, confusion, sometimes aggravation, and a severe lack of focus.
Thankfully, things pick up as time moves on and viewer's get a feel for Meat's personality, and then more so as the group hits the stage and reviews pour in. Finally, we get to the meat (pardon the pun) of the title. Meat Loaf is performing with a new singer, Aspen Miller, and the Canadian press doesn't care for her high boots, skimpy outfit, and on-stage shenanigans during "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." She might be 28, but she looks young, and the critiques are getting to Meat Loaf. He says you can't listen to them, but you can see that they're sneaking their way in and making him question his choices.
While it must be said that Meat Loaf didn't open his home and life to inspection, and instead made a path of rules for Bruce David Klein to follow, more could have been done with the content to make it pop. To be fair, the energy did increase throughout the film as the tour crosses Canada, especially when Meat taps into the good old days for "Paradise," but it's just too late.
The film is by no means a comprehensive look at Meat Loaf's life, but it does offer an interesting look at how Meat brings it all together. You meet his wife and dogs, his vocal coach, the stage players, and those behind the scenes. You see how physically taxing it is for Meat to do these performances night after night, and then you get a mid-movie perk with Dennis Quaid, who cheerily explains that Meat is very angsty. What you don't see is Jim Steinman, who has had a tenuous relationship with the performer over the years, and who is clearly not involved with this latest work.
While no one wants a film where the flash stifles the content, in an age where digital flair is so readily available, it would be easy to amp things up with a little bit of technology, and a little excitement. Had Klein got creative about how to explain the particulars and give background, and had he started the film with the excitement of the concert experience, or the roar of the music that made Meat famous, this could be an entirely different movie. Instead, it offers a fair amount of information, but none of the passion that the subject deserves.