“Fix: The Ministry Movie” reaches a climax around some grainy footage of the band, Chicago industrial-rock pioneers Ministry, cutting short the song “So What” and evacuating the stage. The audience is fleeing, too; some yahoo in the crowd set off a canister of what the band thinks is tear gas. Backstage — and this movie is chiefly set backstage, all over the world — singer Al Jourgensen is crouched in a corridor, panicking. “This is f—ed up!” he says. “This is the last tour I’m doing, ever. I’m not gonna risk my f—in’ ass for this.”
The incident is presented as further evidence of Jourgensen’s descent into paranoia, drug-fueled or otherwise. The documentary’s next scene shows a burly man exhibiting two bullet-proof vests, advising Jourgensen which one would wear well onstage, lest the violence of some of the band’s fans — fueled in part by the music itself — become truly extreme.
What “Fix” doesn’t show, however — and I know, because I was at this particular concert, May 5, 1996, at the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla. — is that the show went on. Ministry came back out and barreled through such screechy, scorching milestones as “Scarecrow,” “N.W.O.” and “Thieves.” Whatever Jourgensen’s hang-ups, he always bounced back.
“Fix” opens the third annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival this week with its world premiere, ahead of this weekend’s Wax Trax! Retrospectacle concerts at Metro, celebrating the label that brought Ministry and other like-minded bands to prominence.
‘FIX: THE MINISTRY MOVIE’
A documentary directed by Douglas Freel. Running time: 97 minutes. Unrated (adult language, nudity, drug use).
World premiere screening at 7:30 p.m. April 14 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, features commentary from “Sound Opinions” hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, plus a Q&A afterward with Ministry bassist Paul Barker, director Douglas Freel and producer Ed Bates. A second screening, without commentary, is at 10:30 p.m.
What begins as a simple backstage pass to watch the top-hatted, dreadlocked Jourgensen act like an average rock ‘n’ roll loon (bellowing in a Viking helmet, meeting Fabio, sticking his penis into a chicken before allegedly serving it to record company execs), “Fix” slowly saturates with foreboding as Jourgensen injects more and more heroin. Between clips of Jourgensen’s flailing and acting out, like a juvenile Jack Sparrow, numerous Ministry bandmates, producers and peers both enhance and question the singer’s legend. Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor offer contrasting outlooks on the manic, drug-addled lifestyle ably depicted in the film. Amid images of Jourgensen getting pretty wasted, the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra drops a leavening perspective: “Keep in mind, the Eagles did this, too.”
In fact, a central question in “Fix” is this: Is Jourgensen for real? Buzz Osborne, from the Melvins, provides the film’s only external conflict, wondering aloud if Jourgensen’s legendary wild-man persona was grounded more in stagecraft rather than reality, on and off stage. “Fix” occasionally considers Jourgensen as a man trapped in a self-made myth. We see a happy, relaxed Jourgensen backstage strumming an acoustic guitar and singing the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” When he has to head onstage to perform his band’s considerably harsher, abrasive music, he’s crestfallen. “I’d much rather do the show I had going on in here,” he says, “a little Gram Parsons, a little Buck Owens. It sure beats the sh– out of the crap we do.”
Is he being facetious? “Fix” leaves the question hanging, muddying the waters with innocently confused or calculatingly confusing statements from Jourgensen himself. In a sober moment, he says, “It’s just a show, man, but to you the whole concept of the caricature gets pretty life-consuming.” In a glassy-eyed, post-injection moment, he stares into the camera and, after joking (right?!) about selling dope to 6-year-olds, declares matter-of-factly that he’s been making it all up — because we as the audience wouldn’t have it any other way. Which might indicate he understands rock ‘n’ roll better than anyone.