In 2012, filmmaker Don Argott thought he had finished shooting his documentary on Virginia metal band Lamb of God when he got the call that lead singer Randy Blythe had been arrested while the band was on tour in the Czech Republic. Blythe was being held on charges of manslaughter for an incident that had occurred two years prior and was facing up to 10 years in prison. Argott’s film was far from over.
As the Palaces Burn has its NYC premiere Monday, March 3, at the Highline Ballroom. It chronicles the first leg of the 2012 tour and the dark turn of events that followed, including Blythe’s trial. We discussed this unique rock documentary with both Argott and Blythe.
What distinguishes this film from other “about the band” documentaries is, of course, the freakish trial situation that occurs. It was hell for the band, but from a filmmaker’s point of view, was it kind of a gift?
Don Argott: I mean, yeah. It would not be genuine of me to say otherwise. Whenever you’re making a documentary, and some big life event happens, and you happen to be on the inside of that because you’re making a film…You don’t want to say “a gift” because obviously that has the wrong connotation because it’s so tragic what ended up happening, but it gave us an opportunity to dig pretty deep into what was going on and what this band really had to go through and what they had to endure.
It was uncharted territory, and it was an amazing, wild ride that we all went on. That’s the beauty and the terror of making documentaries. Life happens.
Randy, the way we’ve seen you in previous films about Lamb of God, you were kind of the wild card of the bunch–
Randy Blythe: To put it mildly.
But now you’ve been sober for three years. When this trial happened, it seemed like a test of whether you were going to practice what you preach about personal responsibility.
RB: That’s absolutely it. For me, sobriety has always really given me the confidence that I can practice what I preach. And I’m not saying that I haven’t practiced what I preached before, but when your fat is in the fire–and I was looking at 10 years of my life saying bye-bye, no time off for good behavior–for me, it was a matter of personal responsibility, and I espouse that in my lyrics.
If I hadn’t done what I did and gone back to Prague and faced this thing, I am absolutely 100% convinced that I would have drunk again. That I’d be drunk right now and shortly thereafter dead.
Don, what sort of limitations were you working under in the Czech Republic?
DA: Initially, I had asked permission of the judge to film the trial, and he wrote me back and basically said media is allowed to shoot the beginning of the trial and the end, meaning the verdict, and that was it. That’s a big problem when I’m making a film, and the second half of the film is about Randy and the courtroom. So that’s a pretty big obstacle to have to overcome. But once I got there and got embedded with Randy’s legal team [and learned] what the Czech policy was for attorneys being able to audiotape or record the proceedings, they said they were allowed to do that. So I basically gave them my audio recorder, and I at least knew I was going to have the audio of the trial. But then halfway through the trial, the media restrictions got loosened up a little bit, and the judge let us continue to film. So it all worked out.
Randy, how has this experience changed you?
RB: You know, it’s something I’m really still kind of processing. Writing this book [Dark Days, due later this year] is helping me because I’m going through it, and I’m trying to engage 100% in the truth with this because, anything else, and I’m just lying to myself, and I might as well start drinking. As far as a major change in me, I don’t really think there has been one. I think the major change in me happened three years ago when I quit drinking. I think for me, this whole experience has just been an affirmation that I am on the correct path with not drinking and facing reality and taking responsibility for my own actions. All of that was in place before any of this happened. I guess I’m a bit of a sadder person, in some ways. I can get pretty emotional about it, not because, “Oh, poor me, I went to prison, and I went through all this.” Daily, I get sad because there’s a young man dead. That hurts. It’s terrible. And I think about his family every day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them and think about him.
Lamb of God: As Palaces Burns screens tonight, March 3, at Highline Ballroom. 8 p.m. $15.