Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jim Jarmusch.
There have been at least three great music documentaries this year – Amy Berg’s insightful and comprehensive Janis Joplin: Little Blue Girl; Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, which was a comprehensive look at the band during the height of their early fame in the mid 60s; and Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s look at the music and career of Iggy Pop and his band The Stooges. This is a loving tribute to one of the most influential early punk bands of the 60s and 70s, and it is steeped in a strong sense of nostalgia.
This is a well researched and assembled documentary that offers up an in depth look at this iconic, legendary punk band whose influence is obvious. Formed during one of the more turbulent periods of American history, their music offered a counterpoint to the bland music of the late 60s and early 70s. Jarmusch is obviously a fan of the band, and it shows in this detailed and meticulously researched documentary that tries to place the band in their historical context. In Pop’s own words, The Stooges were “one of the bands that did a lot to kill the 60s.”
The film traces his career from drummer in a series of largely forgotten high school bands through to the formation of the Stooges and their subsequent rise from obscurity to moderate success. Their influences include John Coltrane and of course the MC5, with whom they toured. Their first album was produced by John Cale. But it was the band’s dynamic front man Iggy Pop, with his wild and uninhibited stage presence, his on stage acrobatics and contortions and stage dives, that caught the attention of audiences.
And unlike a lot of music documentaries there are no fan boy interviews or appearances from the likes of Bono, a regular presence in these documentaries. Rather Jarmusch lets Iggy Pop tells the story in his own words. Jarmsuch cast Pop in a few of his movies, so there is already a great relationship between the two that allows for a level of candour that maybe another filmmaker may not have achieved. Through a series of interviews with Pop (born Jim Osterberg jr) Jarmusch teases out details about the band’s rise and demise from Pop’s own perspective, which colours the information a little.
The interviews are filled with some wonderful and often hilarious anecdotes, including approaching Moe Howard and asking his permission to use the name The Stooges. Humourous stories abound, but the material is also tinged with a hint of sadness when talking about the deaths of former members. The film also touches on Pop’s drug abuse, the turbulent relationship within the band, its clashes with their record company, but Jarmusch tends to downplay some of the more controversial aspects of their story.
Gimme Danger is fairly formulaic and conventional in its approach to the material, which unfolds in largely chronological order. There is plenty of archival footage as well, featuring live performances from the band that show the charismatic lead singer at his most dynamic, and some samplings of their music. Jarmusch has also cleverly incorporatedcarefully chosen snippets from films and television shows from the 60s to illustrate certain aspects of the documentary, which makes it more entertaining.
One of the signs of a good music documentary is that, even if you don’t like their music or even know much about the band or their music, you come away from the cinema with a greater appreciation and insight. And so it is with Gimme Danger. I must admit I was not a fan of Iggy Pop or the Stooges, but I found much of this well structured and well edited documentary fascinating and informative. There is a lot of energy to this film and it zips by at a fairly fast pace, which is unusual for a Jarmusch film.