I’ve heard it said that to find out someone’s true character, ask them to untangle a string of Christmas lights. It’s true, in the midst of hardship we often discover who we really are, what we stand for and if a pre-lit Christmas tree is that big of a deal after all.
If you want to know who 30 Seconds to Mars really is, Artifact may be a good place to start. The documentary, directed by Bartholomew Cubbins (Jared Leto’s directing pseudonym) follows the band as they confront perhaps the most difficult hardship of their professional career: a lawsuit with a billion dollar record label. Taking place in 2008, the film gives critics and fans alike an intimate look at the band’s legal battle with the Virgin/EMI record label as well as the harsh realities of today’s music industry.
Thankfully, the documentary isn’t all legal jargon. Intermingled in this gnarly legal mess is the genesis of the album, This is War. Struggling to uphold their artistic morality amidst incessant phone calls from lawyers, I watched as Jared Leto (lead vocals), Shannon Leto (percussion) and Tomo Milicevic (lead guitar) poured their hearts and souls into an album that may never see the light of day. Hearing the now hit song “Kings and Queens” taking shape for the first time in the band’s Los Angeles recording studio is one of the film’s great moments.
At times, something felt…off. Standing against the backdrop of a beautiful California skyline, Jared, cell phone in hand, weighs his legal options. Likewise, in the midst of making creative breakthroughs on the album, the band is forced to deal with legal matters. I found myself thinking Enough already! Can’t we just talk about the music?!
Initially, I was frustrated. However, at the film’s completion, I realized that to document the making of a successful album without mentioning the trials from which it was crafted and conceived would be a half-truth. Furthermore, to make a documentary about a band and fail to relive the difficult moments that helped shape them into the artists they are today would be a disservice to them and to their fans. Artifact does exactly what it is meant to do, and it does it beautifully through its visual contrast of commerce and art, a bold comment on the difficulty of merging the two worlds.
A warning to all the die hard fans and echelons out there: if you’re watching this documentary in hopes of seeing awesome live show footage, or to relive that crazy concert in Manchester, then you will be left wanting. This film isn’t about the success 30 Seconds to Mars achieved after the release of This is War, but the battle to get there. Whether you’ve been a fan of the band for years or recently discovered their music, I highly recommend taking the time to watch Artifact, which will leave you with a greater understanding and appreciation for the musicians you’ve come to know and love.