Minute By Minute: 30 Seconds to Mars’ ARTIFACT
In Minute By Minute, we analyse long form music films and documentaries, pausing the chosen subject as each minute unfolds in a bid to make sense of it all. First up: Jared Leto and friends get shafted by the music industry, sport a rebellious attitude to scarves and generally complain a lot in the amazing Artifact.
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Long Story Short: 30 Seconds to Mars are sued by record label EMI for $30 million. They attempt to fight this while also putting a new album together. Will they prevail? Can it make any more or less sense when focused upon in such a manner? Well, we’re going to find out. Also, I’m watching this while suffering from a pretty horrendous flu so I want it on record that it’s probably a very bad idea. Onwards!
00:00 Ominous tones ring out as THE SISYPHUS CORPORATION title card lights up the screen. It’s less a corporation and more one of the many arms that make up the 30 Seconds to Mars monster.
01:00 Guitarist Tomo Milicevic warms up backstage at a gig as his voiceover informs us that “It’s very important to fight for what you feel is right“.
02:00 The title unfurls against a packed audience as fans chant the name of the offending album. It helps get over the cult-like aura the band have instilled predominantly amongst emotional teenagers.
03:00 A blue sky and the Los Angles cityscape just before they transition to Jared Leto’s bedroom where he greets the day by raising a middle finger from beneath his duvet. A totally off-the-cuff gesture, no doubt.
04:00 Milicevic, sporting the kind of casual/haggard look that beautiful people get away with, stalks a dingy-looking corridor.
05:00 We get into the meat of the picture as former Vice President of Media and Creative Services for EMI, the spectacularly-named Angelica Cob-Baehler, parrots that 30 Seconds to Mars are being sued by their label for the cute sum of $30 million. She also makes this face:
06:00 Jared Leto’s inability to wear scarves correctly makes its presence felt as he mournfully informs a journalist of his perceived illegality of the situation facing his band.
07:00 Palm trees flicker underneath an overcast sky as a cheap-looking time transition lets us know that the lawsuit is officially underway.
08:00 Leto, resembling a grunge version of Christ himself, moans to his brother and drummer Shannon, who, incidentally, has come dressed as Bono circa 1996.
09:00 Neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin, having previously revealed that music taste is formed in the womb, gets very flowery on the subject as black and white footage of Bob Dylan takes the screen.
10.00 Renowned producer Mark “Flood” Ellis (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, U2, Smashing Pumpkins… uh, 30 Seconds to Mars) is introduced. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with “The Beatles Were Shite” emblazoned across the front. Hero. Leto’s voiceover informs us that he’ll be living with the band as they record their new album. He will come to show a quiet dignity in the face of relentless sociopathic behaviour and it is for this above all of his achievements that we should remember him as an honourable human being.
11:00 Flood, softly-spoken, explains his process. He wants those he works with to feel that they can make mistakes, which is helpful as Shannon Leto will essentially forget how to play drums at one point.
12:00 Yet another cityscape shot. This one boasts a burning red sun ala A New Hope and brings us up to Day 14 of the lawsuit. On this day, Leto – once again wearing a Keffiyeh scarf in preposterous fashion – and his cohorts meet with their manager and lawyer in a bid to combat EMI’s action against them.
13:00 Leto, whose black and white scarf clashes so violently with his blue and black plaid shirt that it’s giving me a headache, complains. Again.
14:00 Lawyer Peter Paterno, shot in a dark room, reflects on the “severe decline” of the music industry. It’s worth noting that one of the reasons why Artifact is so engaging is that it grants the viewer genuinely fascinating insights into the music business. Though just about every assembled talking head is on Team 30STM, they come from various different industry backgrounds and speak candidly of their – mostly negative – experiences. And then the rest of the film is Jared Leto behaving like a confused spoiled alien. It’s quite the ride.
15:00 A moody synth score pulsates as Daniel Levitin returns to note that a generation of music fans has grown up without ever having to pay for music and thus resent the very concept of having to do so. As someone with a press full of overpriced and now-unloved CDs, I’m nodding along intently.
16:00 The sci-fi score kicks up a notch and is quickly becoming very enjoyable. System of a Down man Serj Tankian, arguably the most interesting contributor on here, rightly criticises record labels for not self-sustaining and credits Apple with being smart enough to establish their own playing field.
17:00 On the 30th day of the lawsuit, the band play what will evolve into ‘Kings & Queens’ in their home studio. Is it wrong that I don’t think this is a terrible song?
18:00 Flood encourages the band during a lunch break.
19:00 Mexican girls scream as Jared and the boys head to, er, Mexico.
20:00 Leto brings his commitment to improper scarf wear south of the border.
21:00 Another day, another ill-treated scarf. It’s not hard, dude.
22:00 It is revealed that the struggling EMI has been sold to private equity group Terra Firma, further complicating the situation for Jared and his merry men.
23:00 Angelica Cob-Baehler is back to shine a light on Terra Firma, whose chairman is named Guy Hands. Yep.
24:00 Leto strums an acoustic version of ‘Kings & Queens’. I’m not as keen on this.
25:00 Manager Irving Azoff verbally fellates Leto as the man himself goes for a Kurt Cobain/Tyler Durden look.
26:00 It’s all very saccharine now as Leto reflects on his poverty-stricken upbringing while a sombre piano plays over a family photo.
27:00 More of this.
28:00 For fuck sake.
28:52 Cheating by eight seconds here, but Shannon Leto’s terrifyingly creepy face needed to be recorded.
29:00 Flood does his best to look like he’s enjoying himself as ‘Closer to the Edge’ screams over the soundtrack. If you ever want to instantly despise a bunch of kids you’ll never meet, check out the video to that track. While you’re at it, look up the one where they act out The Shining and tell me you don’t expect the two Jareds to start making out when they come face to face.
30:00 Irving Azoff notes that labels screwing artists over is far from a new thing.
31:00 An interesting short film depicting how a record deal is structured begins.
32:00 Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington pops up, supporting the notion that a record deal comes with numerous covert ways in which to bleed the artist dry.
33:00 The short film, complete with cheap graphics, continues the narrative.
34:00 Don Rickles-a-like Bob Lefsetz – a “music industry writer” – compares all this to an abusive marriage.
35:00 A close-up of Leto’s thumbnail, for all the fetishists out there.
36:00 Shannon watches a video on taiko drumming, noting that he is “learning”. Good man.
37:00 We get Shannon’s juvenile delinquent backstory. Music SAVED him. Jared saved him. Shannon, the older Leto, shares his brother’s refusal to visibly age. Bastard.
38:00 Jared and Tomo hop into a car as the most ridiculous moment of the film draws near.
39:00 Worst side project album cover ever.
40:00 Tomo, on his leader’s urging, takes a rock and hurls it down towards the busy Los Angeles nightlife, possibly murdering someone in the process. Apparently, it’s symbolic.
41:00 Leto follows suit.
42:00 Damian Kulash of YouTube comedy vehicle OK Go compares major labels to giant cyclopses.
43:00 CEO of Topspin Media Ian Rogers says that artists require assistance in order to succeed, citing Metric as an example.
44:00 Spotify “artist-in-residence” (fuck, is he responsible for the mind-numbing jingles??) D.A. Wallach, clad in a fedora, talks compromise.
45:00 Back in the studio, we get Tomo’s dull origin story.
46:00 It continues. To be fair, he seems like a nice dude.
47:00 Leto complains to poor Flood, who must be wondering what he signed up for at this point.
48:00 More whining.
49:00 A newspaper cutting of when Metallica sued Elektra Entertainment in 1994.
50:00 Bob Lefsetz, arms crossed as ever, explains the catch-22 of a label suing its act to teach them a lesson while also requiring said act to work and make them money.
51:00 Leto in speakerphone conversation with his lawyer, who sounds like he’s got the same flu as me.
52:00 Oh, jesus. It’s the horrible and clearly fake scene where the Leto brothers go to buy a Christmas tree and are so appalled over the one ugly one they find that they haggle over it and refuse to pay any more than $20 for it. Why you would concoct a scenario in which a pair of millionaire rock stars behave like pricks and lowball a humble Christmas tree seller and put it into your own movie, I do not know.
53:00 The brothers chuck their prize into the back of their car like the doomed Billy Batts in Goodfellas. It’s just as grim.
54:00 Leto engages in a painfully unfunny film noir impression that he finds HILARIOUS.
55:00 Lawyer Peter Paterno trashes arch-villain Guy Hands for getting involved in an industry he arrogantly assumed he understood.
56:00 Leto, in a pretty swish jacket, notes how many record label employees and divisions have come and gone since they first signed a contract.
57:00 A clunky 24-style camera move gives us two Jared Letos, just in case you forgot what this film is really about.
58:00 The visual gimmick expands, adding Milicevic and the elder Leto to the mix.
59:00 As promised, Shannon FORGETS HOW TO PLAY DRUMS. Glorious.
1:00:00 Jared passive-aggressively scolds him for it. This is also glorious.
1:01:00 Our hero looks moody, talks moodier.
1:02:00 Leto plays piano whilst – you guessed it – complaining.
1:03:00 You and me both, brother.
1:04:00 Further adventures in how not to wear a scarf.
1:05:00 GUY HANDS. This film basically treats him as a Scooby Doo villain.
1:06:00 As gloom fills the air, the ever-patient Flood holds a team meeting. He assures the band that the skeleton of the record is in place. Leto threatens to emulate Chinese Democracy and stall on the album as long as possible. Well, I presume that’s the implication. Maybe he intended to release a fucking sonic nightmare with a hilariously awful album cover.
1:07:00 Flood, god love the guy, perseveres. Leto posits that the record is “definitely missing a song”.
1:08:00 Flood, now in nighttime transit mode, reflects on the apparent futility of the situation. He’s either the most stoic person in the industry or they’re paying him a huge amount. Maybe both.
1:09:00 Jared hits Miami beach and gazes profoundly at some doves. SYMBOLISM. He will also draw a Pink Floyd album cover in the sand and behave like an ignorant weirdo to two fans who happen upon him and lavish praise.
1:10:00 Leto rides atop a fan boat, sensibly leaving his poor scarf etiquette behind lest he befall an Incredibles-esque messy demise.
1:11:00 Happy 2009, everybody! Here’s a quick recap of how fucked the economy was. How things have changed, eh?
1:12:00 The gang retreat to a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Los Angeles for some pretentious recording. The way the sun comes through the window is like something out of Blade Runner.
1:13:00 Music producer Bob Ezrin makes a point about how special artists can be but is drowned out by the flashing neon sign that is Leto’s vocal track.
1:14:00 Long-term U2 producer Steve Lillywhite bemoans the “leeches” in the music business who only care about holding onto their jobs.
1:15:00 Jason Flom, CEO of Lava Records, emphasises the business aspect of the music business. At this point, Artifact is somewhat running out of steam. As mentioned, the talking heads sections of this documentary are both interesting and important, but at times the points are laboured and simply repeated for the sake of it. I guess it’s preferable to shot #206 of Jared Leto looking wistful against a serene backdrop, but the film needs a new angle at this stage.
1:16:00 Or maybe another shot of Leto looking wistful against a serene backdrop was the way to go, after all.
1:17:00 Ok, now it’s just getting ridiculous.
1:18:00 The beautiful vista continues as the beautiful successful rich rock star whines that EMI may block him from releasing this very documentary. Spoilers: he was able to release it.
1:19:00 We’re officially in the third act now as Leto cuts a passionate promo, ranting to his band (and poor, poor Flood) about the music industry and its ill treatment of artists. To be entirely fair, he’s got a point.
1:20:00 Band manger Irving Azoff explains how 30 Seconds to Mars would be worse off if they signed a contract today as a new act due to the horrendous nature of the ‘360 Deal’.
1:21:00 Former EMI CEO Elio Leoni-Sceti shows up with his amazing lower-tier-of-Italian-football name, noting that labels are constantly demanding more revenue from their signees.
1:22:00 Peter Paterno passionately hits out at this concept.
1:23:00 Things are cookin’ back in the studio as the band finally nail that last song, which turns out to be ‘This Is War’. Odd how they supposedly had that for the album title prior to constructing the song but the writing and recording process is a strange beast, guys. There’s a really goofy moment here where the mix switches Leto’s in-studio take for the finished vocal line. As if we’re all too busy being lost in Jared’s dreamy eyes to notice. Well I did notice, Jared. So there. What are you gonna do, come and get me?
1:24:00 Leto heads to New York for some downtime and for an EMI meeting that will never take place. A surreal moment occurs when a girl runs up to him, informing Leto that he’s famous and was in her “favourite movie”, that she doesn’t know the name of. He surmises that it’s Requiem For A Dream. It is. She freaks out accordingly and Leto, unexcited as ever, takes it in stride.
1:25:00 Leto poses with noted scumbag celebrity photographer Terry Richardson. I was going to post a picture of this but fuck that guy.
1:26:00 The studio. Milicevic struggles to play along to the click. They’re no fun.
1:27:00 Yet another arty shot of the Los Angeles skyline as Leto talks about living forever. He’s referring to art and music but in fairness, the guy has to be a vampire or something.
1:28:00 This film loves landscape shots of LA. I reckon if you broke it down to its basic parts it would read something like:
51% Wistful shots of Jared Leto in picturesque locales
25% Post-produced shots of the Los Angles skyline
20% Talking heads
4% Tomo and Shannon
1:29:00 The lawsuit approaches 200 days as it appears that EMI having gone into hiding. Leto, hood up like a crestfallen teenager, continues to get stood up. Take the hint, buddy.
1:30:00 Yet more upsetting scarf etiquette.
1:31:00 EMI settle. Victory. After all that, there’s only way to acknowledge this feat. With a fucking Sun Tzu quote.
1:32:00 Leto, looking more and more like Kurt Cobain, talks tough while eating a smoothie with a spoon.
1:33:00 Band management celebrate, Leto looks glum.
1:34:00 Lawyer Peter Paterno is happy that it never went to court. Sweet acoustic guitar plays over the soundtrack like something from a twee camera ad.
1:35:00 Leto casually mentions that GUY HANDS stepped down as Terra Firma chief. His unmasking as Old Man Withers from the haunted amusement park is sadly never shown.
1:36:00 The various talking heads reflect on this news and the demise of EMI. There’s no real gloating here, more a resigned sadness at how the industry has developed.
1:37:00 Jared Leto lies down, eyes closed, speaking in tongues. He’s coming up with lyrics that I could have sworn he was singing an hour ago.
1:38:00 A ‘Yay, we did it!’ montage plays as the record is finally completed.
1:39:00 Amanda Palmer, who once gave out about me on Twitter, gesticulates wildly while talking about realistic aims for musicians.
1:40:00 A graphic tells us that This Is War sold nearly two million copies and 30 Seconds to Mars sold out arenas worldwide. We also get this arresting image:
1:41:00 Jared brings the curtain down by asking a packed arena how many of them illegally downloaded This Is War. They cheer loudly. He forces a chuckle. We all learn a little lesson about life. For example, I learned that Artifact director ‘Bartholomew Cubbins‘ is a massive narcissist. How do I know this? Because he’s actually Jared Leto. The more you know, eh?