Film Review: Shihad - Beautiful Machine

“Sometimes bad things create good things for you in the future,” says Shihad frontman John Toogood, “and sometimes the bad things create nightmares.” Welcome to Shihad: Beautiful Machine, the gritty, funny and often-heartrending documentary about the New Zealand rock band.

Way back in 1990, four middle-class white kids from Wellington, New Zealand, went from thrash-metal wannabes to a national headlining band. Still in their teens, the members of Shihad were playing gigs in bars that they weren’t allowed to drink in. When a much-loved figure on the local music scene in Wellington, Gerald Dwyer, saw potential in the four high school kids, he took on their management and harnessed their talents. He taught them the ropes of the music industry, introduced them to other bands and took them to Europe. He also introduced them to heroin. On the eve of Shihad’s first Big Day Out show in Auckland, Dwyer died, sadly and quietly, from a drug overdose.

The movie captures this rise from obscurity and the death of the band’s mentor in grainy footage of candid moments from the band’s early history. It’s an eloquent eulogy to someone obviously loved dearly and missed.

But, as we know, Shihad found the courage, and had the drive, to push themselves through the tragedy. Toogood, led the way for his bandmates Phil Knight, Tom Larkin and Karl Kippenberger and Shihad grew in success.

As popular as they were in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe, Shihad longed to break into the US market. All of their collective energy was focused on that. The quest ruptured personal relationships and drove the musicians to the point of mental breakdowns. They changed their name from Shihad to Pacifier under the belief the former would offend Americans in the wake of the similarly-sounding Jihad waged on them September 11, 2001. They were called “sell outs” by their fans for doing so, then found their US label didn’t have the stamina to back them into popularity state-side.

There were the drug dalliances, drinking problems and personality clashes you expect from a good rock ‘n’ roll story. There is some bad advice, and worse jokes. Take it from Shihad, “you can’t say cunt in America” without repercussions.

Despite all the kicks the band takes on this journey, they rise admirably and release three more studio albums to regain the confidence they had lost. There is great live footage, favourite songs and home video of early recording sessions. There are also plenty of very funny anecdotes and intimate stories about each member of Shihad and their own personal struggles.

Throughout all of this one thing is never lost; Shihad are a pretty rockin band who always put their music first above all else. Shihad: Beautiful Machine will make people fall in love with the band and deeply touch fans who have always loved them.

Review Score 9.2 out of 10.