Anthropologist and heavy-metal documentarian Sam Dunn is sincere, awkward and Canadian. The same can be said of his latest subject, the hugely popular and misunderstood rock band Rush. In the course of 13 chronological chapters, Dunn makes a bulletproof case for considering Rush in the same canon as Led Zeppelin and the Who. In this, Dunn is successful—if this film doesn't make you love Rush, it will make you want to love Rush.
Let's be clear to identify the source: Dunn's goal as a documentarian seems to be a worldwide mission to legitimize heavy metal. His first films, 2005's Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and 2008's Global Metal, found him in Germany, Scandinavia, the Middle East. With his reputation established as a non-ironic lover of the loud, Dunn was granted permission to shoot over the shoulder of his favorite band, Iron Maiden, crafting last year's must-see Flight 666. It's kind of a no-brainer, then, that his sights would turn next to one of Canada's greatest musical exports.
The greatest strength of the film is its clear depiction of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil "the new guy since 1975" Peart. The love and camaraderie between these men shines bright as the northern lights. Dunn tells the trio's story, but he forgoes the data-heavy approach, crafting instead a portrait of three friends amid the success they achieved in forging their own musical path. Though Rush has sold millions of albums and packed arenas for decades, it's still considered "the biggest cult band in the world," standing proudly as the three nerds from the North that conquered America.
The history of metal documentary begins with This Is Spinal Tap. And 2008's deservedly lauded Anvil! The Story of Anvil went to great lengths to echo Spinal Tap's heritage. But where Anvil needed a film to liberate it from poverty and obscurity, Rush needs no such handout. Instead, Dunn concentrates on redeeming the band's reputation. While the Metallica doc Some Kind of Monster revealed exactly what a metal band shouldn't do, Beyond the Lighted Stage shares a one-of-a-kind tale of fame and fortune that manages to be endlessly inspiring without much drama. Even if Geddy Lee's banshee wail drives you up the wall, one viewing can't help but bring him a little closer to your heart.
Cinema 21. 9 pm Thursday, 7 pm Friday-Saturday, June 10-12. $5-$8.