Combustible Celluloid
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With: Shane West, Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzalez, Noah Segan, Ashton Holmes, Tina Majorino, Lauren German, Keir O'Donnell, Sebastian Roché, Azura Skye, Katharine Leonard, Michele Hicks, J.P. Manoux, Amy Halloran, Missy Doty
Written by: Rodger Grossman, Michelle Baer Ghaffari
Directed by: Rodger Grossman
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 92
Date: 10/16/2008

What We Do Is Secret (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Forming the Germs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rodger Grossman's What We Do Is Secret, a biopic about the Los Angeles punk band the Germs and their lead singer Darby Crash, sneers at bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Doors. But then the movie uses exactly the same formula to depict their story as another movie would to tell the story of those more conventional, moneymaking bands. In essence, it's pretty much the same movie as The Doors (1991), Ray (2004), De-Lovely (2004), Walk the Line (2005), Control (2007), La Vie en Rose (2007) or El Cantante (2007), which is doubly disappointing since a reckless, genius outsider like Crash certainly deserved something more interesting.

In the mid-1970s, inspired by David Bowie's song "Five Years," Crash (Shane West) forms his punk band with guitarist Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez), bassist Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips) and drummer Don Bolles (Noah Segan). And yes, Belinda Carlisle (Lauren German), future singer for the Go-Go's, was briefly a member. (Pat Smear would likewise go onto a steady income as a member of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.) Everyone proclaims Darby a genius and events happen as if they were major revelations, fated in the stars and destined for history. He comes up with the circle for the logo and establishes a mysterious "five year plan." The band records a (brilliant) album in 1979, gains a following, but is banned from "every club in L.A." due to recurring brawls and expensive damage. Darby starts up an ambiguous relationship with a groupie, Rob (Ashton Holmes). Everyone tries drugs. A woman introduces herself as Penelope Spheeris, and she'd like to film the Germs for her movie, The Decline of Western Civilization. An interview with a weasely DJ on KROQ provides the band with a too-easy target to show off their playful anarchy.

Finally Darby reaches the conclusion of his brilliant plan, which is to commit suicide. Unfortunately, pulls it off just hours before John Lennon's December 8, 1980 murder, and so the impact of his death was somewhat diminished. Band members and friends occasionally speak to an unseen interviewer as if for an annoying "Behind the Music" special. The club scenes are meant to look chaotic, but they seem choreographed, and the sound is too contained and controlled (as opposed to the great live music scenes in Control, the best thing about that movie). It's a shame to see such vibrant material treated in such a routine, nostalgic manner, but the energy of the material and especially of the Germs music occasionally rescues the movie from its unimpressive, superficial stretches. Every single Germs song is now available on one essential CD, MIA: The Complete Anthology, released in 1993. Better to spend your money onthat.

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