Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen sues makers of behind-the-scenes documentary 'Fix'
West Coast fans of pioneering industrial metal band Ministry might be waiting quite a while to see the years-in-the-making behind-the-scenes documentary that premiered at the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival last weekend. Frontman Al Jourgensen is suing the film's makers, alleging, among other things, that he's owed thousands of dollars and that he did not have the opportunity to approve the cut of "Fix: The Ministry Movie," which chronicles the group's 1996 SphincTour.
"The bottom line is this," Jourgensen said Tuesday, speaking by phone from his home in El Paso. "It boils down to breach of contract in a lot of different ways. I'm sole registered owner of the trademark Ministry, the name Ministry, the brand Ministry, everything Ministry. In any contract signed throughout the history of the filming of this, it was understood and in writing and approved and signed by everyone that I would have final cut approval of this film being shown anywhere, let alone being released. I never got that."
Directed by Doug Freel, "Fix" features talking head appearances by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Tool and A Perfect Circle's Maynard James Keenan and Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister (himself the subject of a recent music doc) in addition to the footage that Freel shot while touring with the band some 15 years ago. The film offers frank depictions of drug abuse, but Jourgensen, who has seen various cuts over the years, said he takes no issue with the movie's more unflattering moments.
"I don't really care about the content of what's in the film," said Jourgensen, who recently completed a rehabilitation program for alcohol abuse. "To me, the whole film is a Polaroid snapshot of a period of my life that I'm not particularly happy with... It's like watching a slow train wreck for me, or a reality show, but that's fine because I'm a whole different person now. I have no problems with that film ever being released, if it's done properly and I'm paid for it. It's not like I'm doing this because I'm ashamed, or anything like that."
Indeed, Jourgensen has been forthcoming about the 18 years he spent addicted to heroin, a period during which he also fathered the industrial music movement that came out of Chicago. The signature sound brought together driving, stinging electronic beats with blistering heavy guitar and distorted vocals. Jourgensen was chiefly responsible for shaping its steely sonic textures with Ministry and a slew of side projects, including the Revolting Cocks. In the band's later years, Jourgensen relocated from the Midwest to Texas, with Ministry officially disbanding in 2008.
Culver City-based Freel conceded that Jourgensen was still owed money based on contracts that had been signed, but he said the production simply doesn't have the cash at this point to pay the singer. The two haven't spoken directly to one another in years.
Working with distribution consultant Ed Bates of Gigantic Pictures, Freel and his producing partner Jeffrey Kinart had been hoping to take "Fix" -- which was made for just $180,000 -- to the market at the Cannes Film Festival in May to help raise funds for its release, but the pending legal action has tabled that for now. (In advance of the film's premiere last week, the Chicago Reader published an extensive piece looking at the legal back and forth between Jourgensen, his wife, Angie, and the filmmakers.)
In terms of the cut of the film that was shown at CIMMfest, Freel maintains that it was the same version Jourgensen had seen most recently -- one Freel said he had shown to him in Texas over the Christmas holidays in 2009 -- minus one shot that Jourgensen had asked Freel to remove. In the scene, blood can be seen being drawn up into a needle Jourgensen is using to shoot heroin. "That's the only shot that's different," Freel said. "It's gone. The entire rest of the film is exactly what I sent him."
Answering additional allegations that he never got the proper clearances for the music he used or signed releases for talent appearing in the film, Freel said, "I've been in this business 30 years, I'm 52 years old, I don't go shoot somebody without a talent release. I do have all those. It's all cleared."
Freel admitted feeling frustrated and confused by the legal wrangling, insisting that in the end, "Fix" offers a compelling portrait of Jourgensen. "He looks great in it, he looks smart in it, he looks handsome in it. I think Al knows how hard I've worked on it. I did what I could to make the best movie I could. Now, unfortunately, there's five legal teams that have to decide what happens next."
"I don't care if this film comes out or not," Jourgensen said. "It's not something that I need the fame or the notoriety about. I'm quite happy with my life as it is. But OK, these guys did a bunch of work on it and I agreed to let it go, but not under the current state that it's in. They've been paid, but I haven't been paid and the movie's about me. There's a lot of breeches that are going on here. The absolute bottom line is that I have final cut approval and that's in every single contract from the inception of the filming of this in '96. That's in every single legal document, and I was not afforded that luxury."
-- Gina McIntyre
Photo: Al Jourgensen Credit: Paul Elledge