Directed by: Scott Barber
Premise: A documentary about the metal band Gwar covering the band’s origins, its discography, and the evolution of Gwar’s elaborate stage show.
What Works: Gwar started in the late 1980s in Richmond, Virginia. More than just a band, Gwar was an artist collective that brought together musicians and stage performers and visual artists. They created a cast of outrageous characters known as the Scumdogs of the Universe, intergalactic warriors who have been banished to Earth. Gwar’s stage shows featured costumed performers and over the top violence and gore that would inevitably cover the audience but the band was also really funny while taking their musicianship seriously. In the ensuing decades, Gwar’s output expanded to comic books, feature films, and collectibles. The documentary This is Gwar provides an overview of the band’s history and the film will appeal to longtime fans as well as those unfamiliar with Gwar. This is Gwar includes interviews with many of the band’s central figures and they provide a mix of informative behind the scenes narration and backstage gossip. The documentary takes a broad look at the band’s history, covering their discography and the evolution of their sound as well as the various lineup changes and some of Gwar’s run-ins with law enforcement. Among the most endearing qualities of Gwar is the band’s sense of humor and their enthusiasm for their work. Both of those qualities are on display in this documentary. Gwar formed in part as a reaction against the stultifying nature of corporate art and academic art spaces and the band and this documentary maintain that antiestablishment attitude but with their tongue in their cheek. At the same time, Gwar was earnest about their work and one of the outstanding qualities of the documentary is its humanity. The personal stories of Gwar’s members and the passion and effort they poured into this project and the relationships between the artists and musicians are involving and occasionally moving.
What Doesn’t: This is Gwar is a conventional music documentary. It lays out the history of the band in a straightforward linear fashion and intercuts contemporary interviews with behind the scenes and performance footage. Given Gwar’s unusual style, it’s a little disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t try to do something more experimental or creative. Much of This is Gwar is focused on the stage shows and the elaborate costumes and effects. The music doesn’t get as much attention. Gwar has released thirteen albums over the past thirty-three years with some changes to their sound but the documentary doesn’t look too deeply into the production of the music. It would also have been interesting to hear from Gwar’s passionate fanbase who are mostly absent from the documentary.
Disc extras: Featurettes, interviews, and a commentary track.
Bottom Line: This is Gwar captures much of what is fun and significant about the band. It’s a fairly conventional music documentary but This is Gwar is also an effective summary of the band’s history and it possesses unexpected human warmth.
Episode: #933 (January 1, 2023)