Overview: The November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris claimed 130 lives around the city — 89 of them at the Eagles of Death Metal’s Bataclan Theatre concert.
This documentary spotlights the American rock band as they recount their experiences before and after the tragic events. The film explores the deep bonds between band co-founders Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme (also a member of Queens of the Stone Age), as well as the intense connection the band has always had with its devoted fans, which moved them to return to Paris to perform once again in February 2016.
It includes accounts of fans who survived the Bataclan attack, extensive behind-the-scenes footage of the band and interviews with Bono and The Edge of U2. Directed by Colin Hanks and produced by Live Nation Productions and Company Name, the documentary is a portrait of resilience in the face of unspeakable horror and a life-affirming coda to the events of November 13.
Expectations: We are in luck with this one as we get two documentaries in one. We get schooled in just who the fuck Eagles of Death Metal is and we get first-hand accounts of yet another terrorist attack upon the innocent. And though we have had documentaries recounting terror incidents (MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING, THREE DAYS OF TERROR: THE CHARLIE HEBDO ATTACKS and TERROR AT THE MALL) before the angle used here is from the first person perspective of a famous person. It is a good approach as any and we’ll take it.
Gut Reaction: I’m almost certain a documentary about Eagles of Death Metal would not have appeared on HBO if the band hadn’t been performing at the Bataclan that day, even though it was directed by the band’s good friend Colin Hanks. Though this band shows many appreciative fans it isn’t a major-level super group on the mass market radar – until their concert was stopped by rapid fire. As I stated this is a two-part film. Since there were famous people involved you cannot understand the impact the attack had on the band unless you know a bit about the band. That is only fair; let’s look at that part of the documentary first.
The first half of the film introduces those unfamiliar with the two big names of the band, Jesse Hughes & John Homme. They are open, honest and quite theatrical in front of the camera. They have a way with wordplay and wear their emotions on their sleeves. You can easily see it. They also have a unique friendship; they come across as lovers almost, if they didn’t already have significant others and family. They are highly expressive on all matters and equally impassioned about each other, their music and their fans. Jesse’s appreciate stance for the fan base is unrivaled in rock & roll I’d say.
This all leads up to November 13, 2015 at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, France. I never heard a detailed telling of the incident really. The survivors of that night, all of them from band members to fans, clearly and bravely retell the story from their perspective and each one of them did a good job of doing so. The best moments of the film is spent listening to them. I never knew exactly how close to death the members of Eagles of Death Metal were and Jesse Hughes, thin skinned as he is, was really overwrought and changed by it. He witnessed, as they all did, instant chaos, terror and violent death. The band was split up; one hiding in a shower stall, others looking for exits.
Some of the other documentaries I’ve cited told their stories via the aid of news footage of the attacks where this documentary solely relies on the testimony of the band and fans. That saved this film from being just another recount of the facts for me. The raw nerve that is Jesse Hughes and the concise thoughts of John Homme (who was not a part of that gig, by the way, but hearing about it helpless over the phone) also aided in the telling. Well done.
Bonus: Colin Hanks, director of the documentary, sat for an HBO Q & A that we offer here in part:
HBO: How long have you known the band?
Colin Hanks: I’ve known those guys for a while now… seven or eight years. I met Josh [Homme] at a show many moons ago and then met Jesse [Hughes] shortly thereafter. They’re just really funny light-hearted guys. At the tail end of making my documentary about Tower Records, they helped me out with some music issues I was having for our trailer and ended up playing our premiere party. That party was four weeks before the Bataclan show. I actually talked to Jesse two days before the attack.
HBO: Why did you decide not to include news footage in the film?
Colin Hanks: There was a lot of sensitivity there. We wanted to make something that wasn’t gratuitous — that wasn’t exploitive of their experience and the fans that we spoke to. I didn’t want to show too many images of violence. The weeks afterwards, that stuff shows on television and you become desensitized to it.
HBO: Were you concerned about asking them to speak on the subject?
Colin Hanks: It was hard because it wasn’t that long after the attacks. Everything was fresh in their minds. Luckily, we have a good friendship, so we were able to lean on and be honest with each other. It was harder with the survivors because we didn’t have that friendship and they hadn’t told their stories to any other public outlet. I promised them I would try to be honest and truthful and represent them the best way I can. I am honored to call them my friends now because they took a flying leap of faith to speak to me.
In Conclusion: It would be a cruel play on words to say it was well executed, but it was. Hanks got us inside the head of the band, and inside the attack quite effectively. It is an hour and a half worth watching. And it doesn’t end on a gloomy note because, as we all know, the Eagles of Death Metal went back to Paris to finish the gig that was rudely interrupted. Hell, yeah!
Next: UNLOCKING THE CAGE follows animal-rights activist Steven Wise around the country and into the courtroom for an unprecedented battle that seeks to expand legal “personhood” to include certain sentient animals. It debuts MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20 at 8:00pm.