The singer Meat Loaf was very protective of his creative process, and apparently this documentary was the first time he’d allowed cameras behind the scenes to document it. Certainly, he’s frequently uncomfortable with or begrudging of their presence, although he seems to get used to them over time, allowing us some rare insights.
The film follows Meat and his band as they prepare for and commence a mammoth 18-month world tour following the release of Bat Out of Hell III. Despite the lengthy schedule, a DVD recording of the concert is scheduled for just a few gigs in. It’s never mentioned who was responsible for booking that, but it clearly causes added stress for everyone: rather than allowing the show to become refined and polished over a long series of gigs, it’s got to be good enough to be documented almost as soon as it starts. No one here is ever pretentious enough to refer to the recording as an “historical record”, but that’s what it will be. This is the first tour in which Meat will perform songs from the entire Bat Out of Hell trilogy, and the gig that’s recorded for DVD is the one that will endure as the record of this tour. It’s got to be right.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the fact that Meat Loaf is never satisfied. At one point, Meat’s mate Dennis Quaid is in town and pops by to watch that evening’s gig. Afterwards, he describes it as “an incredible show”. “It wasn’t one of my favourites, but thank you,” replies Meat. So Dennis asks, “how many times are they your favourite?” “Never,” Meat answers, “I hate ’em all… I’m waiting for the perfect show.” Of course, the perfect show never comes, and so Meat never feels it’s gone as well as it could have; he’s always apologising to fans that it won’t live up to expectations. But it’s not that the tour is genuinely coming up short — the band are happy; the crowds are certainly entertained — it’s just something in Meat Loaf’s character. He pushes himself so hard — too hard, given how exhausted it makes him, to the point he physically collapses after most shows. Whether you like his music or not, this film leaves you in no doubt about his dedication to his craft; to trying to give his fans exactly what they want.
That desire comes to a particular head in one of the film’s major subplots: the show is generally well reviewed in the press, but every critic takes issue with the staging of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, a number about teenage sex in which 59-year-old Meat duets with 28-year-old Aspen Miller — who looks a lot younger, especially in her skimpy cheerleader outfit. Frankly, I reckon the critics were at least partly jealous that Aspen Miller wasn’t writhing all over them, but maybe that’s just giving away something about me… Anyway, the number should be one of the highlights (as guitarist Kasim Sulton says, he’s been touring with Meat for decades and they’ve never done a show without it), but the criticisms are a cause of irritation backstage. Importantly, Miller doesn’t share the critics’ concerns; indeed, she seems to find it frustrating that they’re dismissive of her part in the performance, writing her off as a victim of it, when she’s an adult involved in the planning of what is a fully-choreographed routine. But the criticisms get to Meat even more — it’s not meant to be a song about a handsy old man attempting to assault a young girl, after all — and so various fixes are attempted to improve the song’s reception. It’s like a case study in revising a work while it’s already in performance, and shows that these tours don’t go out on the road locked and unchangeable — or, at least, they don’t when Meat Loaf is involved.
The film’s final line is given to Meat Loaf himself. As he walks away after that all-important gig filmed for the DVD, he repeats several times: “I tried.” That’s his attitude in summation: he never thought it was good enough, but he always gave it his all.
Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise is the 10th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.