NYFF Review: Gimme Danger (Special Events)

Reviewed By Lauren Humphries-Brooks (Part of coverage of the New York International Film Festival)

 

Gimme Danger is the exuberant and enticing documentary about seminal rock band The Stooges, fronted by punk icon Iggy Pop. Director Jim Jarmusch brings his quintessential art-house style to the documentary genre, blending contemporary and historical interviews, animation, public domain films, stills, and concert footage to create a wild ride that rubs the deep underbelly of 1960s and 70s counterculture.

Gimme Danger opens with the proclamation that The Stooges is the greatest rock band of all time – a bold statement, given that they’re in competition with The Beatles, Elvis, David Bowie, The Who, and The Rolling Stones, to name a very, very few. But it also makes good on its claims by tracing the evolution of the band in relationship to the music that influenced them, and that they in turn influenced. Beginning with the downfall of the group after a series of disastrous business decisions and descent into drug addiction and boredom in the mid-70s, we’re then taken back in time to its inception. Talking-head interviews relate the childhoods and musical influences of Iggy Pop – born Jim Osterberg – and fellow band members Ron and Scott Asheton (the two original members of The Stooges, in addition to bassist Dave Alexander).

Pop’s presence looms large in Gimme Danger, which is understandable: he’s the most recognizable and consistent face in the band, and one of the few members to have a prolific music career following The Stooges. His erudite stories and his evident musical knowledge and capabilities, make the film compelling without overwhelming the viewer with indulgent memories of rock ’n’ roll wildness. His anecdotes are nothing short of hilarious – including a story about bashing on the drums all afternoon long, to being enthralled by the noise made by a machine in an automotive factory. It’s hard to imagine Iggy Pop as the drummer for a band called The Iguanas, yet there he is, with bowl-cut and bow tie. The film could have easily fallen into the trap of becoming “The Iggy Pop Story,” but Jarmusch is a better director than that, and he evidently knows the story that he wants to tell. Screentime is evenly split between Pop and his fellow band members, especially as the film goes deeper into the early days of The Stooges.

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Jarmusch’s goal here is less an investigation into the personalities of the group, and more in providing a cinematic sense of their place in the cultural and social landscape of the 60s and 70s, and their influence today. This is no exposé – the band’s personal struggles with drugs and violence are referenced as part of the story that affected their music, but without tearful confessionals or admissions of guilt. The point is not to highlight conflict, but to celebrate the music and the mayhem.

Gimme Danger, then, plays like a musical performance in itself, effortlessly pulling together the eclecticism of the band – and the period – into what can only be termed an experience. The talking-head interviews make it feel more like a straight documentary, but these interviews are intercut and punctuated with gunshots of music and sound, and even animation that re-enacts some of the stories. Visual jokes abound, especially in the use of public domain “educational” films from the time period that recount the dangers of drug use, rock music, and dropping out of high school.

In the world of Gimme Danger, The Stooges act as purveyors of the bleak and the ugly, exuberantly violent and intensely connected to their audience through Pop’s self-endangering antics. Yet there is meaning beneath this, something that Pop himself reinforces as he explains what he views as the cultural treachery of certain slice of apparently counter-culture music. He has no time for the peace and love rhetoric of the late 60s, not because he has no time for peace and love but because it seemed to represent the corporatization of youth culture, a lack of respect for the truly revolutionary, a “cultural treason.” The over-produced cleanliness of the period covers over dramatic cultural and social upheaval, an attempt to commodify rebellion into something palatable for mainstream America. In contrast, The Stooges and their music are a return to primitive man, Pop’s stage presence an explosion of primeval anger for which words do not and cannot suffice.

Gimme Danger will be difficult to access for some, especially those who know little about The Stooges. But it is still a window into a time period so often glossed over with a comforting veneer of civilization that makes the 60s and 70s out to be far less revolutionary than it truly was. Like The Stooges, Gimme Danger is intense, primitive, and more than a little disturbing. It’s rock ’n’ roll.

Lauren Humphries-Brooks: A writer and editor with two Master’s degrees in Creative Writing (University of Edinburgh) and Cinema Studies (NYU). Currently freelances as copy and content editor for Cobblestone Press and previously worked as an ESOL Writing Instructor for Hamilton College. She maintains her own website and writes freelance for sites including We Got This Covered, The News Hub, and Man I Love Films. (Twitter handle @lhbizness)

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