Saturday, November 5, 2016

'Gimme Danger' review

The Stooges are sort of a forgotten band in rock 'n' roll history. I'm decently well-versed in the classic rock of the 1960s and 70s, and even I hadn't heard of The Stooges. Frontman Iggy Pop later went on to have an extremely successful solo career, but before he became an iconoclastic superstar, The Stooges changed rock forever. Gimme Danger is director Jim Jarmusch's chronicle of what he believes to be the greatest band of all time, a group that blended punk music with instrumental riffs and performance art to become highly influential. Jarmusch's love for the band is felt at every turn, and through fascinating interviews, colorful montages, and some brilliant editing, he's able to create a definitive portrait of The Stooges. Unfortunately, while Gimme Danger is energetic and vibrant, it isn't all that profound or perceptive, working mostly as a summary of the Michigan-based band's history and experiences. It's still an okay watch, but I can't help but think that fans of both the band and music documentaries will be looking for something more.

In an interesting twist, Gimme Danger begins at the end, as Jarmusch opens the film with The Stooges at their lowest point. There was no big break-up or fight that caused the beginning of the end- just a slow and steady disintegration, caused by flailing record sales and a disappointing American tour. After giving us an introduction to how things fell apart, Jarmusch takes things back to the beginning and tells the story of how The Stooges became the icons that they did. Through an amalgamation of interviews with Iggy Pop, the Asheton brothers, and other members of the extended band family, newsreel footage, and witty pop culture references, Gimme Danger displays nearly a decade in the life of these wacky individuals. Raised during the height of the counterculture, The Stooges gained an insane following, selling out venues, teaming up with artists like David Bowie, and raising a middle finger to the rest of the world along the way.

It's all decently fun to watch, but Jarmusch never seems to know why he's telling this story or why the audience should care. You can see him trying to present The Stooges as an integral part of a revolutionary movement, but there's never a moment where their influence is truly conveyed in an effective manner. It feels mostly like a giant summary of the life of these guys, with a few bits of news footage and clips from other bands to give a sense of time and place. And even when it comes to detailing their historical impact, it comes off as a footnote in the greater scheme of the film. Jarmusch's love for this group is abundantly and obviously clear, but his approach is anecdotal, more of a recap than a true analysis of what made The Stooges tic. Maybe it's because there wasn't much beneath the surface, but if that was the case, Jarmusch never hits that point either.

Gimme Danger is nonetheless occasionally entertaining, created with a grungy energy and a punkish charm. The interview with Iggy Pop is pretty solid, as he's able to give an engaging breakdown of his inspirations while maintaining a sense of dazzling charisma. Jarmusch blends the traditional documentary interviews with some oddball animated detours, giving the film a unique charm that carries it through some slower moments. Most importantly, Gimme Danger has an authentic sense of time and place, appropriately conveying the downtrodden desperation and futility of the counterculture revolution. Jarmusch portrays The Stooges as the enigmatic center of the musical and cultural explosion, and the approach generates some fascinating results at times.

As a music documentary, Gimme Danger is......fine. It gets the job done- nothing more, nothing less. Jarmusch's film is full of flair and pizzazz, and yet somehow, it still manages to be somewhat of a disappointment. For Stooges fans, this will be the ultimate treat, but for everyone else, Gimme Danger fails to deliver on its basic thesis. In the opening moments of Jarmusch's interview with Iggy Pop, the director calls The Stooges "the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time." This is a bold statement, and as most audiences will probably be unfamiliar with the band, you would expect the film to back it up. Sadly, it falls way short of that mark. Gimme Danger has some mild entertainment value as a regurgitation of the important landmarks in the life of Pop and the Stooges, but it's a slight piece of work that can be shrugged off without hesitation. Jarmusch has given us everything we could possibly want to know about these guys, but in the process, he seems to forget why their story means anything in the first place.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.1/10)

Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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