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Written by J'net and Andres.

"Heart Like a Hand Grenade" ("Heart"), a film by John Roecker, documents the making of Green Day's 2004 Grammy Award winning album American Idiot. Roecker shot over 300 hours of film during the time he spent in the studio with the band members, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool. On March 25 2009 we were privileged to be among a small crowd of approximately 500 who may be the only audience that will ever view this movie.

The evening began with a friendly gathering in the courtyard of Hollywood's Egyptian Theater where Roecker posed for photos with all comers and allowed (even encouraged) liberties to be taken with his person. He signed autographs, joked with the crowd, and personally handed out programs (which included invitations to the after party following the show).

Roecker introduced the movie with a short, amusing speech. He gave the audience some background into how the movie came into being and mentioned the lack of conflict between the band members during their eight months in the studio. Apparently, when he discussed this with the band, Billie Joe mistakenly assumed John had lost interest in doing the film because it wouldn't contain enough drama. Roecker assured him that wasn't the case, and filming continued. In fact, it is refreshing to see throughout this film that a band can be together for 15 years and achieve world-wide success while still keeping their genuine friendships intact.

The movie is broken up into sections, with each one devoting attention to specific parts of the album. Each section follows the band's creative and production process for a song, often including insight into the writing, the recording of the material, the first rehearsal, and finally, the first performance in front of a crowd at the Henry Fonda Theater on September 16 2004. Each song on the album is played all the way through within its section, with the exception of Holiday. In addition, each section contains several scenes of the band interacting in the studio and talking about everything from plastic surgery to how to drink responsibly.

"Heart" is filled with small details that fans of the band will appreciate as they illustrate the characters of the band members. In one scene they are sitting and talking with several people when Billie Joe starts mentioning criticism he's read and heard about the band. "Warning was your worst album." ... "You guys suck now. You just stay home and get fat. You only get skinny and look good when you go on tour." Then, his voice full of sarcasm, he says, "You guys are terrible now, but Billie Joe is so-o-o hot." ... "Why can't you make another Dookie?" He smirks and then says, "I can't help but look up and think 'What did I just hear? I don't get it.'" Keep in mind this was before American Idiot became a world-wide success. At the time, the band didn't know what to expect.

We were asked later how "Heart" compares with Samuel Bayer's 2005 Bullet in a Bible (BIAB). Although both films document events that are legendary in the minds and hearts of Green Day enthusiasts, BIAB is obviously heavily funded and polished. It's true that most Green Day fans enjoy watching BIAB, with the exception of the self-aggrandizing director's scene, but they are primarily enjoying the band and the incredibly energetic performances at Milton Keynes Bowl in June 2005. In contrast, while "Heart" is rich with sufficient detail and minutiae to delight any Green Day enthusiast, it is a work of art in its own right. "Heart" brings viewers into the studio with the band and immerses them in a realism that is truly full of heart and soul (not to mention occasional flatulence).

One of our favorite scenes begins with a black and white shot of Billie's arm in a short-sleeved shirt filling the center of the screen. He's holding a guitar but his arm is relaxed. The way it's filmed, the viewer's eyes are drawn to this arm with its familiar tattoos. Suddenly, the arm begins to pump up and down so fast that the tattoos become a blur as he plays his part on the guitar, and this goes on long enough to illustrate what these reviewers see as the quintessential Armstrong: the punk rock musician who doesn't hold back but puts every ounce of himself into his music.

Often, Roecker uses the camera to linger lovingly on some aspect of the scene or demonstrate the harsh reality of the toll taken by the creative process. At one point, the camera appears to caress a pink tank worn by Dirnt as he plays his bass. Another scene shows Billie Joe in stark black and white crying as he listens to playback of Whatsername. These and other techniques used by Roecker encourage the viewer to enter the film and become part of the scene.

"Heart" uses both color and black-and-white and, especially during the full-length musical numbers, switches quickly from one snippet of film to another. This approach means that Roecker has had to use the published recording of each song rather than the sound produced by the band during rehearsals; however, it is exceptionally effective at demonstrating how many times the music was rehearsed, recorded, and refined before Green Day played it for a live audience. As Billie Joe once said, "...hardest working band in rock ... ever!" In addition, this technique seems to emphasize the raw energy of the musicians as they put 100 per cent of themselves into every song.

Several unexpected details add to the interest of the film. The addition of clips from classic movies such as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "Un Chien Andalou," incorporates the occasional surreal touch. A dance scene from 1969's "Sweet Charity" (directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse) is in perfect rhythmic synchronization with sections of Jesus of Suburbia. Brief glimpses of Jason White and Jason Freese as well as the sound of Kathleen Hanna recording her vocal intro to Letterbomb are sweet treats. And the opportunity to watch as Billie Joe crosses out the title "Clusterbomb" and alters lyrics for the song that later became "Letterbomb" was an unforeseen delight.

Another gift for the audience is the inclusion of a previously unheard acoustic ballad performed by Billie Joe on guitar. To the best of our memory, the key lyric is "Tell me when is it the time to say I love you." As he concludes the song, Rob Cavallo says, "Wow. That's great. If it fits on the album, we'll use it."

The chance to see the smallest tasks of recording is not only a pleasure, but enables the viewer to gain a clearer understanding and deeper respect for what the band does. Armstrong had a vision for this album, and his drive to record something that challenged him shows as he pays attention to each detail. There are clips of Billie Joe practicing and then recording background guitar for a song. This piece is a smaller sound in the final cut that most people wouldn't even realize is there, but it adds to the depth of the song's sound. It brings to mind the experience of viewing a painting. It's easy to look at the final product and think, "That's great," never realizing that the artist decided to add an extra shadow or a hint of color for a reason - it's the final effect that the viewer (or in this case listener) appreciates without necessarily being aware of the underlying details.

It's not all hard work, though. One amusing scene shows the band members discussing sending some strippers to Weezer. One says, "Male strippers!" More conversation ensues, and then one remarks, "No, let's save the strippers for ourselves. Those cheap bastards won't send them back." In another scene, Tre is delightful when he dresses in white sheets and imitates an Arab as the character Captain Hey. He says, "I am responsible for putting the 'Heys' in all the songs. You know the song 'Hey Ya' by OutKast? ... That was me. Some people think they can do their own 'Heys' but the quality is not the same as using a "Hey" expert.' His comedic sense makes this scene hilarious. And Mike shows his sweet, fatherly side when he brings in a key chain his daughter made that says, "I love you, Daddy" and shows it to the group, saying, "The plus side of being a dad - trinkets." He then mentions the fact that kids often bring home art that "sucks," but then you realize that "They're only fucking four years old."

John Roecker does an outstanding job of documenting the making of an album and providing an authentic look at the people behind the music that millions have come to enjoy. He successfully shows that a film about a major band doesn't require drama and character flaws leading to a major meltdown to make it compelling. The film mirrors the positive energy of the band and the dedication each musician brings to every note of every song he performs.

"Heart" is funny and dramatic (not because of conflict - the intensity is in the music). For those who have never been involved in the music production business, it's fascinatingly educational. For Green Day fans, this film is a feast for the senses and only leads to greater love and respect for the band they admire.
The movie ends with the band playing an improvisational tune with Armstrong on drums, Dirnt on bass and Tre singing about drinking. It's a nice way to wind down after the intensity that drives this film from start to finish with only the occasional short break. Our only complaint is that we understand we may never have the pleasure of viewing this movie again, as Warner has no plans to authorize its release.

DISCLAIMER: As we were unable to take notes during the film and were too fascinated to do so, even had there been sufficient light, we have reported scenes and quotations to the best of our abilities and memory.


***
NOTES:

Regarding Green Day enthusiasts: Our enjoyment of this event was greatly augmented by the number of fans we met at the venue. From teens to fifties, all seemed to bond immediately and enjoy each other's company throughout, leading us to the conclusion that Green Day fans really are the nicest folks. Thanks to everyone who met us there and to all of you for allowing GDA to be a part of this community of fans.

Regarding release of this film: We plan to help in any way we can to get this movie released to DVD. In the coming weeks we'll be launching a new site, releaseHLAHGnow.com, along with the help of a group of individuals from Facebook. The new site will provide a petition and information we can use to work together to convince Warner that this film needs to be released. More details on this will be posted on the GDA homepage.
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