Combustible Celluloid
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With: Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Mike Watt, Scott Asheton, Danny Fields, James Williamson, Kathy Asheton, Steve Mackay
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
MPAA Rating: R for drug content and language
Running Time: 108
Date: 11/04/2016

Gimme Danger (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Real Cool Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Stooges, who released three great punk rock albums from 1969 to 1973 before there was any such thing as punk rock, would certainly be on my list of the ten greatest rock bands of all time. But filmmaker Jim Jarmusch calls them the greatest rock band as he sits down to interview their frontman, the legendary Iggy Pop for the documentary Gimme Danger. He then attempts to make his case.

Pop recounts how he began as a drummer, growing tired of looking at other people's butts. He talks about the earliest formations of the band, influenced by dissonant jazz and art rock as much as by Howdy Doody and Soupy Sales on TV. Sales encouraged fans to write letters, but in 25 words or less, and Pop took this approach to his songs. The Stooges also took a few cues from fellow Detroit rockers the MC5. Eventually they became the Stooges, performing unpredictable shows — with Iggy's crazed dancing out front — and releasing their three amazing records, The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973), none of which (of course) sold as well as expected.

The movie skips over Pop's solo career, and doesn't even mention his twin 1977 albums Lust for Life and The Idiot, and jumps ahead to the re-formation of the Stooges in the early 2000s with Minutemen bassist Mike Watt. The movie doesn't talk about the critical failure of the new Stooges records, nor does it interview any rock critics who might somehow support the "greatest band" claim. Additionally, though Jarmusch shows a slideshow of record covers, all by bands that were influenced by the Stooges, he also doesn't interview any other musicians other than those that actually played in the Stooges. (Though, sadly, most of those guys are no longer with us.)

However, as a simple interview with a great rock musician, Gimme Danger is highly entertaining, and a little revealing. Listening to the Stooges records or watching performance footage might lead one to believe that this was a moment of accidental chaos in music history, but Pop turns out to be quite a brilliant artist, and one who has reasons for everything he chose to do. It was all cleverly calculated, an attempt to do something great that wasn't part of the mainstream.

It's too bad that Jarmusch's film is such an ordinary documentary, with talking heads, archival footage, and little animations, etc. It's far from a ground-breaking, punk-rock movie, nor does it really feel like a Jim Jarmusch movie.

Pop had worked with Jarmusch twice before, in a supporting role in Dead Man (1996) and appearing with Tom Waits as part of the anthology Coffee and Cigarettes (2003). Jarmusch credits him by his real name, James Osterberg, perhaps as a way of suggesting that this is the real guy. In this movie Pop speaks with an elegant, funny grasp of language, not as a trailer trash thug; he's the kind of guy that could hold court and tell amazing stories well into the night without ever growing monotonous. Whether or not Jarmusch succeeds in his task is up for debate — especially for non-fans — but he at least gave me a fresh new appreciation for a band that I already loved.

In early 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a bare-bones DVD edition (no Blu-ray) with no extras. The sound is pretty strong, though, which is what counts!

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