Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.
Written by: Jim Jarmusch.
One of the problems with music documentaries is that they are almost always made by fans of the artists in question. Why else, of course, would one set out to make a documentary about a famous band or musician if they weren’t already a fan? What happens with these docs then is that they often become love letters to the band – must-sees for fans of the musicians in questions, but of limited interest to people who aren’t already on board. To a certain extent, I’m sure this is by design – after all, if you hate Iggy and the Stooges, why the hell would you want to watch Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, which charts the brief, tumultuous career of the legendary punk band in the first place. The best music docs of all time – the Maysles Gimme Shelter about the Stones and Altamont, Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back and Scorsese’s No Direction Home, both about Bob Dylan among them – become larger cultural documents that most of the fan oriented docs. Unfortunately, Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger falls more into this category – he himself has described the film as a love letter to the Stooges after all. Fortunately though, Gimme Danger does have a fascinating subject, than makes the 90 minute documentary fly by, and give you a sense of the people who made up a band that wasn’t all that successful when they were together, but has become legendary in the decades since. It’s not a great music doc – but it’s a good one.
Jarmusch makes the decision early on that he’s basically going to stick to the band members – and those immediately around them – in telling their own story. Unlike many music docs, he isn’t going to be interviewing rock journalists who will explain the historical significance of the Stooges and their music, and he isn’t going to be interviewing other musicians about their last legacy. All he wants is Iggy Pop and the other members of the band to explain how they got together, what happened as they toured, and how it all fell apart just a few years, and a few albums, later. This decision results in a more intimate look at the band itself than many docs get – but also a more limited scope. Iggy Pop is a great interview subject – whip smart, funny, quick witted and not one to who feels the need to burnish his own legend – because it doesn’t need burnishing. Unfortunately, the rest of the band aren’t as interesting as Iggy is – and perhaps that’s one reason why they broke up. This is an odd doc, in that it charts a band that wasn’t around for very long, but doesn’t really explained how the broke up – all of a sudden, they all just retreated to their parents homes, going their separate ways for years. Was there ever any fights, any tension – any resentment that Iggy got all the attention, but also was a reason why they missed or screwed up so many gigs, because of how much of a drug addict he was at the time? Jarmusch is perhaps too in awe of the Stooges – who he calls the great rock band in history (an assertion, I think most would disagree with – even if you love the Stooges) and his love of the band shows.
Having said all of that, there is still ample reason to see the film. The fan does have a lot of great footage of the band performing, which shows just what it was that made Iggy Pop such an electric stage presence – prancing around the stage, shirtless, with a dog collar, he made everyone around him better – they fed off that energy (he says he had to dance around even when recording – because the band played better when he did). He was all raging id, and that fed into the music and the energy around it.
A common complaint I have about music docs is true of Gimme Danger as well – and that is, I would have liked the film to have more, unbroken moments when we can hear the music itself – not just in a snippet or two, but perhaps a whole song. It’s interesting to hear how Iggy Pop’s lyrics were inspired by Soupy Sales – who wanted kids to write him letters, but in only 25 words or less – which Iggy adopted as a songwriting rule – but perhaps that could be explored a little bit more in depth than having the lyrics of No Fun flash on screen (No fun, my girl, no fun). What really fed into those lyrics – or the lyrics of I Wanna Be Your Dog.
Ultimately I enjoyed Gimme Danger – it does give you a glimpse into a rock band that honestly, I did not know nearly enough about – and Iggy Pop is such an intriguing person, both in the interviews, and the old footage, that the film is worth seeing just for that. And yet, I think there is a better, deeper, less reverent film to be made about the Stooges as well. Sometimes your biggest fan isn’t the person you want making a movie about you.