It’s a cliche thing to be an artist that goes unrecognized until after death. The Ramones spent most of their career striving for mainstream success, or at the least acknowledgement of their place in rock history, which they only began to receive when they were almost all dead.
The Stooges were almost that band. For decades they were this well kept secret, the poster boys of nihilism and proto-punk insanity. They’ve always been seminal and vital to the fabric of punk and contemporary rock music but only received acclaim and reverence from the counterculture scene. It wasn’t until recently that they ballooned to the height of fame and stardom that we anachronistically associate with their original appearance in that late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s.
Any coverage of a band as seminal as the Stooges always hedges the lines of blasphemy, but with Gimme Danger, the documentary not only got Iggy’s approval but it was also his idea. It’s not surprising that Iggy approached Jarmusch to cover the Stooges. They’d worked together before (Jarmusch’s stunning portrayal of banality and existentialism Coffee & Cigarettes) not to mention Jarmusch’s involvement and importance to the counterculture and fringe.
When filming for Gimme Danger began most of the Stooges were alive. The documentary uses them, their first person accounts and talking head interviews to chronicle the rise and fall (and rise, again) of the Stooges. Talking head interviews get a bad rep but they are the most interesting part of the documentary. After all these years the excitement and confusion surrounding their existence is palpable even to them. Iggy Pop is especially charismatic and captivating as he retains the wide eyed enthusiasm and exuberance that you expect from a 20 year old. Iggy Pop’s storytelling is so sublime and entrancing that it alone is worth seeing the movie.
Gimme Danger faces a selection problem regarding how to best encapsulate how and why the Stooges are so groundbreaking and ethereal. The Stooges seems like an impossible band even now with their complete devotion to nihilism, chaos and destruction. I mean, the Stooges seem like a band that would have died on stage given the opportunity. Iggy Pop was known for vomiting on and inciting violence from his audience which were merely in addition to the self mutilation he was known for performing onstage. Gimme Danger covers some of this and offers some stellar live footage, including the Cincinnati peanut butter incident, but it’s largely skimmed over to a disappointing degree.
Instead of focusing on the origins and initial run of the Stooges Jarmusch spends way too much screen time on the post-2003 reunion Stooges. The importance of their reunion is not lost on me, a band that had essentially failed and almost destroyed the lives of its members was selling out stadiums and headlining major festivals 30 years later. Still Jarmusch’s focuses on this at the expense of an in depth look at what made the Stooges so groundbreaking 40 years ago.
The problem with Gimme Danger is epitomized in a single scene when Ron Asheton describes the relationship between the Stooges and the Nazi memorabilia. Punk was often associated with extremism, racism and vulgarity. The Stooges were the face of this. Ron and Scott Asheton were known for wearing nazi memorabilia, not rare at the time. What the audience gets for an explanation is one or two sentences from Ron Asheton about how him and his father collected old war relics.
Obviously Jarmusch is a god and the movie is not without its merits and moments of magic. Jarmusch’s found interesting and entrancing ways to punctuate the talking head interviews using cut clips of pop culture references made, or 2D animations of stories that were being told. It’s also such a rare and beautiful thing to see a band so overlooked during their time finally be given their dues and be recognized during their lifetimes.
The movie ends on a somber note with all of the original Stooges lineup with the exception of Iggy Pop now deceased, but I suspect Iggy Pop will outlive us all.
Movie Review by Tamim Alnuweiri. Follow her at @tamimalnuweiri.