Thursday, November 10, 2016

Movie Review: Gimme Danger

How thorough is Gimme Danger, the Stooges documentary directed by Jim Jarmusch? I wrote a thesis on the Stooges, immersing myself for months in any anything Stooges-related I could lay my eyeballs on, and I still learned new things about the band. How good is Gimme Danger? I still got chills from the recordings that formed the central arguments of my thesis.

The story of the band is fairly well-known by now. A bunch of degenerates from the outskirts of Detroit, led by the flamboyant, antagonizing Iggy Pop, recorded a few albums and played a bunch of stages, earning few fans and pissing off many more. They crumbled under the weight of poor sales and their own drug habits. Rather than falling into obscurity, they were eventually heralded as important, ground-breaking revolutionaries. Their 2003 reunion served as a victory lap before the deaths of founding brothers Ron and Scott Ashton.

In lesser hands the documentary could have been straightforward but artless. But Jarmusch brings two strengths to piece. He has worked with Iggy since the '90s, and the centerpiece of the film is several extensive interviews with Iggy. And while the movie includes plenty of archival footage of the band, Jarmusch shows real flair in the selection of materials to fill in the gaps and illustrate the voiceover interviews. This includes a combination of stock footage, movie clips from other sources and newly-created animation that convey a sense of humor about the subject. For example, when they discuss using the Three Stooges as inspiration for the band name, the film includes a clip of the comedy trio playing instruments to a Stooges soundtrack.

Although Iggy is the star of the film, Jarmusch interviews many others, including guitarist James Williamson, Scott Ashton, his sister Kathy, Danny Fields, who signed them to Elektra, and Mike Watt, who replaced the late Dave Alexander on bass when they reunited. An existing interview with Ron Ashton, conducted shortly before his death, supplements the interviews done for this project.

A slight shortcoming is that the film glosses over some of the internal conflicts within the band. Paul Trynka's Iggy bio Open Up and Bleed shows great admiration for its subject without letting Iggy off the hook for his sometimes dismissive treatment of his bandmates. On the other hand, this movie was the first recognition I've seen of Alexander's specific musical contributions to their debut album, and it came straight from Iggy's lips. The film also fills in some of the dotted lines on the path to their reunion that started with Ron being asked to join with younger, admiring musicians for a faux-Stooges band for Velvet Goldmine, a fictional film loosely based on Iggy and David Bowie's relationship in the '70s.

Gimme Danger is currently in limited release and is recommended for Stooges fans and newcomers alike.

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