While most of us would cower at the thought of asking infamously gruff Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister for so much as directions to the nearest loo, filmmakers Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski somehow mustered the nerve to seek intimate access to his daily life with cameras in hand. Luckily for viewers, they emerged from nearly three years of ear-punishing, whiskey-addled study with an absorbing, inspiring, occasionally surprising portrait of one of rock’s most iconic heavies. Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son Of A Bitch, which opens at the Music Box Theatre tonight, delivers on its aim to chronicle and quantify the metal forebear’s hard-rocking, hard-living, bird-flipping proclivities, combining up-close interviews and live musical vignettes with commentary from a broad spectrum of famous admirers (Ozzy Osbourne, Ice-T, Jarvis Cocker?!). The film goes a step further in highlighting the steadfast humility and good-humored resilience beneath the “Ace Of Spades” howler’s brutish exterior. The A.V. Club spoke with Olliver and Orshoski about the privilege, perils, and harmful side effects of life with Lemmy.
The A.V. Club: The film offers plenty of evidence to support Lemmy’s image as a hedonistic, hard-drinking, cock-swinging outlaw, but we also see him talk more tenderly about how much he loves his son, and how he doesn’t want to advertise a lifestyle that has killed a lot of his friends. Did you come to understand his basic moral code, if he has one?
Wes Orshoski: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s one of the first things he ever said to us. He repeats it in interviews.
Greg Olliver: It’s one word: honesty. If he’s going to screw your wife, he’ll probably tell you first. Sure, he has this hedonistic lifestyle, but he’ll tell a woman that he’s going to be with another woman an hour later, or 10 minutes later. He’s said that if he’s going to be remembered for one thing, he wants to be remembered for being honest.
AVC: For all the innuendo, we don’t actually get much detail about his sexual exploits. Did you try to interview any past or present girlfriends?
GO: We did talk to a couple of girls who dated him, but they wouldn’t really go down that road. It didn’t feel like something we needed to dig into. I don’t know if any of us really wants to know what happens when he’s in bed with a woman.
AVC: Is it true that he had final cut on the film? Was that part of the deal from the get-go?
GO: Yeah, he did. The whole pitch to him was that we were just going to do an honest portrait. We didn’t have an angle. We didn’t know what we were going to do, other than just follow him around. I think that was what made him so comfortable.
AVC: Were you surprised by anything he didn’t ask to cut?
WO: We were worried to the end. We regretted [giving him final cut] at times, but who’s to say he would’ve said yes otherwise? Up until the end, I was worried to death. But he didn’t want to cut anything. And really, that’s one of the most Lemmy things he could do—to have final cut and not abuse it.
AVC: The segment where he talks about his collection of Nazi memorabilia is pretty brief, giving him just enough time to explain that he’s not actually a Nazi himself. It seems like he’d have more to say about the dark mystique of that stuff, taboo as it may be. Did he talk more about it off camera?
GO: He’s definitely said that it looks badass, it looks mean. And it does. That’s the whole Motörhead look—it’s dark, it’s heavy. We just wanted to show what he had and ask why he had it. We didn’t want to go any deeper than that. … He also talks about Hugo Boss being the guy that designed the SS uniforms. If you think about it, he’s just wearing vintage Hugo Boss.
WO: When we premiered the film, we’d been dreading that moment for two years, the moment when his collection comes onscreen. People had been cheering and loving the movie, and then you could hear this collective gasp in the audience. … Drinking, chicks, Nazis—these things have interested him since he was a kid. The point [of the movie] from the beginning was that we weren’t trying to judge him. We were just there to show it to the world and share it.
AVC: Greg, you actually suffered some hearing loss while working on the movie.
GO: Yeah, I have this slight tinnitus now. Doctors were telling me to just “turn down” whatever I was exposing myself to, but if I’m standing onstage with one of the loudest bands in the world, there’s not much I can do. But I think some of it actually may have happened as we were editing. Wes would keep asking me to turn it down while we were editing.
AVC: Did getting close to Lemmy affect your partying habits?
GO: I do have certain cravings now that I never had before, certain things that I can’t do without. I cannot get into specifics.
WO: I used to just be a beer drinker. From hanging with Lemmy, I started drinking Jack and Coke all the time. I now have a few blackouts under my belt.
GO: I got stuck in the [Christmas 2010] blizzard with my parents, and my mom kept asking me that same question, and when I finally told her what it was like, she was totally fascinated. “What? How do you do that?” I forgot for a minute that I was talking to my mom.
AVC: Which maybe supports the theory that you don’t have to love Lemmy’s music to love Lemmy.
GO: We didn’t want to make a Motörhead film or a film for just the fans. We knew the fans were going to love it no matter what. For a movie to really work, everyone needs to relate to the main character. Even my parents—they couldn’t care less about the music, but they were fascinated by the man.
AVC: Of the many rock-star endorsements in the film, which ones do you think mean the most to Lemmy personally?
WO: I don’t know if Lemmy would ever say this in an interview, but I think the friendship he has with Metallica is deep. In one of the outtakes, James Hetfield talks about how Lemmy showed up to a Metallica show once. Hetfield went up said, “It’s good to see you, brother,” and Lemmy grabbed his hand and looked him in the eye and said, “We are brothers, more than you’ll ever know.”
AVC: His affinity for whiskey, speed, women, and rock ’n’ roll fits our expectations, but it’s surprising to see that one of his biggest addictions is bar trivia games and slot machines. How did that happen?
GO: He’s been playing casino machines since he was a kid. It seems like an escape for him. Ninety-nine percent of his days are spent with people asking for his autograph or needing stuff. It’s a way he can be in a crowded place and no one bothers him. They actually bring two different slot machines on tour—one for his dressing room and another one in case the first one isn’t working.
AVC: Does Lemmy know anything about movies?
GO: He acts like he does when he wants us to go away. He started asking stuff like, “You guys got enough coverage?” The hardest thing to do is to get him to step away from this video game inside the Rainbow Room in L.A. This one day, we were trying to get him to step outside the Rainbow for a shot, and he’s like, “There’s not enough light outside, Greg. You won’t get enough exposure.” I had to fight with him about the light! All the way outside, he’s talking about how the building is too backlit or whatever.
AVC: Did it ever get uncomfortable putting so much focus on Lemmy and hardly any on the other guys in Motörhead?
WO: From the very beginning, when we first met those guys, we told them, “We’re doing a movie on Lemmy, it’s called Lemmy, the website is lemmymovie.com.” There was never any doubt as to what the movie was about. But it’s funny, because now we joke that we could do another two-hour film on Motörhead.
GO: Totally. Motörhead as a band deserves its own film.
WO: There are four hours of DVD extras. Anyone who wishes there was more Motörhead in the movie, all they have to do is put in the second disc.