A long time ago, in between new episodes of Yo! MTV Raps and the movie news show, The Big Picture, I remember watching the latest episode of MTV’s The Week In Rock. One of the show’s interviewees was sitting in a hot tub. At one point, he popped out of the hot tub, did the knuckle-shuffle motion over his speedo adorned area while talking about sleazy old dudes wanting to screw young girls, then plopped back into the tub.
At the time, the scene and its interviewee, a recently sober Iggy Pop, seemed to encapsulate current rock n roll music: crass, oddly cool, and vaguely political. At least that’s what it seemed like at the time. Aside from that interview, knowledge of Iggy and The Stooges was limited. More than anything, I knew only of Iggy Pop thanks to his work popping up in movies.
I knew him from his brief role as Salvatore Jenko in Jarmusch’s Dead Man. I knew of him as Rat Face from Tank Girl. I knew of him as Angry Bob from the slummy dystopian horror film Hardware. When it came to musical output, I knew he did that song “Lust For Life” thanks to Danny Boyle’s heroin funfest, Trainspotting. I even have Iggy Pop’s solo album, Brick By Brick and the Iggy Pop starter set, Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop. When it came to the band itself, The Stooges, I only knew tidbits.
Gimme Danger‘s prelude begins with Iggy (i.e. James Osterberg, Jr.) sitting in a laundry room prepping for an interview before hurtling into concert footage. During a live performance of “TV Eye” before a screaming audience, our frontman flings himself into the crowd. Nowadays, this kind of behavior seems par for the course but there was a time when “the kids” weren’t used to this sort of thing. Branded as bizarre, tasteless, sub-literate, and physically abusive [by critics], the band’s reputation led to many shows that devolved into chaos until eventually the group, as Pop said, had “a sputtering demise.”
From this prelude, we are introduced to the lives of the members pre-Stooges, all the way to their ascent.
A borderline fanboy himself, Jarmusch’s fire for his subject is palpable. Intercutting talking head footage with photos, archived performances, old educational film snippets and surreal James Kerr animation, the documentary scoops the viewer up in its story. Yes, the film follows the whole rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-redemption type of narrative that is very familiar to anyone who has watched a Behind the Music or two.
Most of those rock-docs, though, they don’t have Iggy Pop throwing out grim, dry nuggets like: “I went to Detroit with a tab of mescaline and a shovel…” or, when explaining why he left the drummer’s chair, “… I just got tired of looking at someone else’s butt all the time.” It also helps that a director of such engrossing, passionate films like Down By Law, Only Lovers Left Alive, and the Neil Young documentary, The Year Of The Horse is steering the viewer through The Stooges story.
Music nerds are a fickle group. In the end, it’s great to see a documentary devoting a couple hours to artists they feel have been underrated in their contributions to the musical landscape but there’s a pretty good chance the doc will leave out that thing about that one time they did that stuff that was such a big deal. Only there will Gimme Danger possibly be seen as a disappointment. For others, the film will be a pleasant, and possibly, informative diversion.
The testament to a good documentary is if you’re able to find yourself engrossed by a topic you previously thought would be mundane at best. If you told me that one day I’d find myself engrossed by a film about a sushi chef, I’d likely give you a quizzical look. But there I was in the Terrace Theater, transfixed by the meditative vibe of David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. Even though I had just eaten a tub full of popcorn, I walked out of the film craving sushi, a dish I always had a lukewarm response to in the past.
A few hours after watching Jarmusch’s documentary, I, a relatively ignorant newbie, wound up listening to The Stooges’ third album, Raw Power. Ultimately, it feels like Gimme Danger accomplished its task.