‘Breaking a Monster’ or the great rock & roll swindle seen from the eyes of a child
We’ve all seen a few videos of kids rocking out with more than six figure sales numbers. The fame of the protagonists is however, always fleeting. It vanishes along with the wave of shares seasoned with emojis and virtual cheers. “Crack”, “I’m dying of love”, “superfan of this guy”. Does anyone remember Wee Kris? The nine-year-old Scottish kid who became an Internet success with his street versions of AC/DC? Or Mini Band , formed by eight-year-old kids who destroyed Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”? And I wonder whatever happened to that chatty Ryan Watson, the Washington teen whose mohawk and interpretations of Rage Against The Machine and Ozzy Osbourne circulated like a bolt of lighting through our highways of information? In the best of cases, they’ve run the same luck as those street musicians that do techno with pans and plastic tubes: returning to the tranquility of digital anonymity. Better not speak of the clips of those prodigious monsters broadcast by the televised plague with the suffix “Got Talent”, just for the sake of mental prophylaxis. Well then, alighting on the screens of In-Edit is a documentary that closely follows a case that will contravene everything we have just said.
The documentary is Breaking a Monster. The group is Unlocking The Truth. These three African American kids from Brooklyn became popular thanks to a handful of YouTube videos in which they are seen playing metal on a sidewalk in Times Square with notable confidence and conviction. It was 2003 and they were barely 12 years old. A year and a half later, the three friends are seated in front of Sony executives, without understanding a word of what is being negotiated for them: a 1.8 million dollar contract.
Even the title itself, Breaking A Monster serves as an antithesis to the ego overdose of Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster. And that being said, the film isn’t exactly scarce of characters with charisma and attitude: the kids provide us with everything from temper tantrums to philosophical rants based on Grand Theft Auto and painful revelations about how the media and music “biz” work; the parents perform a balancing act between the smell of money and common sense; and from the mouth of their lunatic manager, crafty old fox who will engineer the Jonas Brothers phenomenon, we will hear sprout sentences that sound like they’ve been taken out of The Big Lebowski.
As Lanre Bakare wrote in The Guardian, “Meyers success comes from understanding that the interesting thing about a rock band made up of 12-year-olds is their unique approach to rock’n’roll situations we’ve all seen a thousand times. When in meetings about their contract they play Flappy Birds; when they get to a hotel room they have a pillow fight rather than chucking a TV out of a window; and if something isn’t going the way they want it to, they turn to their mums.”
The story works on many different levels and without pushing any moral ethics. It’s a great “coming of age” story, on the transition between childhood and adolescence. And also a stark show of how the music industry tries to fabricate stars and how it’s executives/predators sell the story of success when they smell prey.
Other films about adolescence and personal identity through art.
I Am Not a Rock Star (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2012)
The tumultuous adolescence of the pianist Marika Bournaki, student at the prestigious New York conservatory, Julliard, and her evolution between the ages of 12 and 20.
Girls Rock! (Arne Johnson y Shane King, 2007)
Four young girls, between 8 and 18 years old, in a summer camp learning to rock out and while they’re at it, defying stereotypes and social exclusion. With music from Le Tigre and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein as the teacher.
We Don’t Want To Make You Dance (Lucy Kostelanetz, 2013)
Miller, Miller, Miller & Sloan: three brothers and a friend who in their teenage years seam bound for fame. We see where life takes them via footage from different periods that span over three decades.