Music-film review: "Black Sabbath: The End of the End"


In February, Black Sabbath played their final show ever before a riotous mob in their hometown, Birmingham, England. Director Dick Carruthers shot a performance documentary about it, which 1,500 theaters around the world screened last night, months before the video release.

At one of the Hollywood Arclight's midsize cubicles, two-thirds full, the mood was happy bordering on catatonic. You could attribute the lack of a rock vibe to the dawning realization that this was an electric funeral; even singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler looked a bit stunned onscreen. But the movie was good.

From the deadly opening dirge, "Black Sabbath," to the closing psycho race, "Paranoid," the performances ran tight and intense, even if the recording seemed too clean for a band whose best shows have teetered on the brink of chaos. Whether due to mental focus or post-production TLC, Ozzy nailed the pitch of every note. The cameras often observed the old dudes looking at one another with joyful affection, while also catching their stooped posture and the mangled prosthetic caps on Iommi's two fingertips, accidentally amputated half a century ago. If the editing jumped too nervously, well, that's just industry standard.

This being a documentary, the music level often dipped to interpolate pleasant if rarely revelatory sit-down interviews with the three veterans. Although the name of drummer Tommy Clufetos, who served so expertly in all latter-day live performances, was never mentioned, the name of human-tornado original drummer Bill Ward was (to the credit of the filmmakers), but only to draw expressions of puzzlement as to why he wasn't included in a single show during the last two years of marathon touring. The talk is welcome for a few viewings, but one hopes the DVD will not repeat the error of the similar 1999 Sabbath documentary "The Last Supper," which did not feature the option of watching the whole concert without interruptions. Great as the live 1998 "Reunion" CD of the 1997 Birmingham concert was, the fans want the unbroken visuals if they exist.

A lot of emotions were flowing during this documentary, never so strongly as when the band got together in a little studio shortly after the arena blowout to churn creditable versions of less-exposed early tunes such as "The Wizard" and "Wicked World." The performance of the moaning ballad "Changes," with Iommi on piano and Butler on sythesizer, brought a special tear to the eye as we considered the changes in health and career that these old soldiers have experienced, and the changes we've experienced with their music as soundtrack.

"The End of the End" was a satisfying piece of cinema, a satisfying slab of rock and a satisfying big-screen event, especially since the Arclight sells beer. And it was almost loud enough. Almost.