Looking more like a bud of Jeff Spicoli's than a learned academic, Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn conducts a first-rate tour of musical metallurgy in the documentary "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey." The 30-year-old Dunn, still sporting the shoulder-length red hair, T-shirts and blue jeans of his youth, hosts and co-directed (with Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy Wise) this continent-hopping exploration of the spirit of metal and its surprisingly wide dispersion of sub-genres.
Dunn says he's been defending his choice in music since he was 12, and the film is a carefully organized and thoughtful argument for the merits of metal. Chapters on the genre's roots (classical, opera, blues), origins (Dunn settles on Black Sabbath as the first metal band after considering such diverse alternatives as Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin), religion and Satanism, gender and sexuality, and death and violence, serve as a primer for nonfans and an argument starter for aficionados.
Approaching his idols such as Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Ronnie James Dio with "Wayne's World"-like reverence, Dunn may be too much of a fan to approach total objectivity, but he does include some of the negative press the genre has received over teenage suicides, lyrical content and Norway's notorious black metal movement. Interviews with metal practitioners such as Tony Iommi, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie and Dee Snider, journalists and academic types paint a compelling portrait of a vibrant society of outsiders.