The basic assumption on the part of filmmakers Joerg Steineck and Christian Maciejewski going into their rock-doc Truckfighters is that, if you’re watching it, you already know who Truckfighters are. Honestly, that’s probably the best approach, since if you’ve tracked the feature-length movie down, you’ve probably done so on account of your fandom of the Swedish outfit, but I’d imagine that even if your interest was based elsewhere – even if you were just watching it for the story or because you have a documentary fetish or whatever else – Truckfighters would still satisfy on that level. Billed as a “fuzzomentary,” it’s a human story rather than rock and roll glorification, and that is bound to expand the reach of its appeal, and apart from the humor and sadness, and yes, the fuzz, it’s also incredibly visually stylized and holds the attention that way as well. Shot on Mini-DV and Super 8, its look is a big part of what ties everything together – along with spectacular editing and a few cartoonish or otherwise humorous montages – and though the retro visual feel doesn’t necessarily mesh with Truckfighters’ actual sound, which however influenced by ‘70s rock it might be is more modern, it still works. Narrated by original Kyuss bassist Chris Cockrell, who also shows up late into the film under his alias Vic du Monte, the story is broken into nine increasingly loosely presented chapters that wind up intertwining to tell the tale in a manner not nearly as fractured or disorganized as life actually is when dealing with a group of people working together toward a common end.
Steineck and Maciejewski (also responsible for the documentary Lo Sound Desert) don’t insert themselves into the actual film, instead leaving it to the band to talk about their lives in and out of Truckfighters, touring, recording, family, etc., with additional setup from Cockrell’s narration at the start of each chapter and at various points in between. Live footage features heavily, as one might expect, and since Truckfighters put on such an energetic show, it adds to the classic rock feel of the movie. At home, though, it’s quiet, and that’s where we start. Following an opening narration from Cockrell – who seemed to have in mind what Sam Elliott brought to The Big Lebowski as The Stranger in his reading voice — the film first shows us vocalist/bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm going to work at a ski shop in what looks like a cold Swedish winter. Chapter one is called “Common,” and it’s not long before guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren is seen in the studio recording a local hardcore band from Örebro, also Truckfighters’ hometown backdrop, which they discuss as boring and Ozo compares to The Matrix even as they splice in footage from a show with Witchcraft and Graveyard. It’s not until chapter two, “How to Get Things Done,” that drummer Oscar “Pezo” Johansson is introduced as being perpetually late, and the band’s shaky relationship with him is made apparent for the first time. He winds up being sympathetic and likeable, as do both Ozo and Dango over the ensuing two contradictory chapters, “Road” and “Home.” Stylized live footage and discussion of the hardships of van travel for touring should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s seen this kind of band-based documentary before, but a timeline montage takes us quickly through the history of Truckfighters and the past members of the band, Fredo and Paco – the latter who came in as a replacement for Pezo, whose drug problem, leaving the band and subsequent return and conversion to Christianity is touched on but never really explored deeply; although later we do see him discuss prayer as the band warms up for a show – and proves necessary for anyone who might not have followed them over the course of their years together and their three albums, Gravity X (2005), Phi (2007) and Mania (2009).
It turns out to be the making of the latter that Truckfighters is chronicling in part. We see the band in their Studio Bombshelter at various points recording, later on dealing with Pezo’s lack of dedication to the project and the band as a whole. Some of the most compelling footage, however is in the “Home” chapter. We meet Ozo’s and Dango’s sons and find out Ozo is a single dad. Dango’s son is an infant he calls “Mini-Dango,” and as we watch them cooking, doing dishes, cleaning up holiday wrapping paper – there’s even a shot of Pezo vacuuming spliced in to drive the point home – it’s clear the interest of Truckfighters is in portraying the band as human beings rather than rockstars. That said, they do admit to partying some, and a pretty funny semi-psychedelic montage of drunk antics ensues, leading to chapter five, “Issues,” which discusses van breakdowns, missed flights and tells the story of Ozo throwing a loaf of bread during a playful “bread fight” with the guitarist of Valient Thorr and hitting his eye, causing some apparently temporary damage. Both bands were on tour with Fu Manchu, which is also discussed later as the movie begins to veer away from the chapter narrative to take in the whole picture. In the midst of that bread-fight story, chapter six, “Family Fights” – which Cockrell can’t finish introducing without laughing – begins, and over the course of that and “The Body Burden,” which follows with a look at the wear and tear of Truckfighters’ high-impact gigging (already in the film we’ve seen Dango jump up and down on stage a number of times) and how they prepare for shows, stay fit, eat well, etc., the Pezo story really begins to develop. In the midst of watching Dango warming up and a funny scene of he and Ozo jogging while eating fruit (soon contradicted by footage of them drunk), we shift to the band in the studio and as Pezo records drum parts, it becomes clear all isn’t well within the band.
This foreshadow is somewhat underdeveloped, but in hindsight is effective in setting the tone for Pezo’s departure, which comes at the end of the next chapter. It’s important to note, though, that with seven of the nine chapters gone, Truckfighters is less than halfway through, and the pacing undergoes a major shift in the second half of the movie, slowing to allow for deeper exploration of the themes already introduced. The tour with Fu Manchu is seen as a high point in chapter eight, “Big,” and shown along with some festival footage. Back at the club, we see Pezo backstage grooving on the intro to “Valium” as he smokes and drinks a beer, and though there had been some equipment problems with Dango’s amp earlier, post-show good-times still are had, and that acts as the setup for Pezo’s leaving the band. Dramatic background music and an emotional explanation from Ozo of the situation leads to the beginning of “The Drummer Dilemma,” which is the final chapter and end of the movie proper. Months pass as the band tries out and passes on different drummers. A fake answering machine is brought on and we hear a message from Alfredo Hernandez meant to lighten the mood, but it’s clear the lack of progress is weighing heavy on Ozo and Dango, even though Pezo has still recorded on the album. At about the 70-minute mark, Pedro is introduced as the new drummer, Dango reveals that Pezo has relapsed, they discuss wanting to tour the US, Japan and Australia, and the first part of the movie essentially ends, but soon a fictionalized news report (the whole documentary is littered with fake newspapers and magazine covers, some of them quite funny) starts that reveals the band has booked an American tour, and before long, we’re backstage at the Los Angeles show, hearing from the likes of Nebula’s Eddie Glass and Ruben Romano, Nick Oliveri, Cockrell and Josh Homme himself, whose touting of Truckfighters as the best band in the world has made the rounds as a YouTube clip and in the trailer for the movie. “Califuzznia,” they call this epilogue that winds up the last 10-15 minutes, and with live footage and the testimonials of desert rockers there to check out the show, things look pretty good for Truckfighters in the end. More fake news reports follow, hilariously conveying Pezo’s return, departure and eventual return to the band, and prior to one last word from Cockrell, Truckfighters are shown taking part in a NASA program to play the moon. One way of saying “the sky’s the limit,” but it works just as well.
Between the live footage, the ultimate success of their American tour – they have another lined up for 2012 alongside Karma to Burn – and the triumph that was Mania, Truckfighters chronicles the band at the moment of their reaching their greatest heights yet, both creatively and in terms of prestige and/or popularity. That wonder doesn’t really show itself in the footage, though, and it’s more the personal story of the bandmates, particularly Ozo and Dango, that’s being told. Of course, the music is a huge part of it, and well placed as part of the overall editing job and construction of the narrative. The film wanders from its original stated structure, but the story provides justification, and the overall effect proves to be richer for it. For the humor and honest perspective it gives, Truckfighters is recommended viewing for fans and newcomers alike. In both its visual presentation – the Super 8 shots, the “cigarette burns” that pop up in the corner, the montages – and the plot it lays out, it wonderfully encapsulates the experiences of one of heavy rock’s best bands.
Tags: Sweden, Truckfighters