‘Gimme Danger: The Story of the Stooges': Movie Review
When it comes to telling the story of such an influential band like the Stooges, a documentary wins every time over a Hollywood-polished biopic. But Gimme Danger: The Story of the Stooges is not only a documentary, it’s also a stellar film that captures the group’s inception, rise and inevitable fall that ends up with unexpected resurrection and redemption.
Filmmaker and lifelong Stooges fan Jim Jarmusch has delivered a first-rate portrait of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most notorious, influential and kick-ass bands. “I’ve been a big fan since my late teens, when I first discovered the Stooges, when I lived in Akron, Ohio,” Jarmusch told NPR recently. “When we heard the MC5 and we heard the Stooges, this became our music. This was industrial, working-class, ass-kicking rock ‘n’ roll. And it was also very innovative, you know? It combined a lot of things into something new and strong and primitive and wild. It really spoke to us.”
In presenting the history of the band, Jarmusch sidesteps many of the cliches that are so often used in music documentaries. There aren’t mounds of praise from other artists or celebrities, for example. Instead, the Stooges tell their story in old and new interviews. From their childhoods to their crossing paths to the final notes they played together, Gimme Danger works on a much more personal level. Former manager Danny Fields is the only non-band member here who chimes in on the story.
And what a story it is, with singer Iggy Pop as its main protagonist. He’s a survivor, not to mention a visionary, of all things rock ‘n’ roll. He’s the only surviving member of the original quartet. Throughout the movie, his sense of humor and down-to-earth straight talk shine through. Growing up in a trailer couldn’t help but build character, and while he never takes his role in the large scheme of things too seriously, Pop is more than aware of his, and the band’s, legacy.
Along the way, we learn some insights into his persona. The basis for his songs can be traced back to early TV star Soupy Sales, who used to tell kids to write letters to him, but to keep them at 25 words or less. Pop adopted a similar approach to his songwriting, keeping things simple and direct. He also talks about his sense of style — like, his wearing of a dog collar and the shirtless torso that has helped define him over the years. Pop doesn’t hold back his disgust for one-time manager Tony DeFries (who was also David Bowie‘s manager), and displays eternal love for his late bandmates, especially guitarist Ron Asheton, who died in 2009, two years after the band reunited for a successful comeback album and tour.
There isn’t much film of the Stooges from their golden era, but Jarmusch was able to round up the best available sources from what footage there is, and he presents it in a powerful way, augmenting it with photographs and animation. But it’s the music that cuts the loudest here. The movie doesn’t go too deep into what made the Stooges so original and influential, but there’s enough there to make you appreciate the amount of thought that went into the deceptively simple sound they kicked out.
There’s plenty of humor and tragedy in Gimme Danger, but the movie keeps much of the focus on what matters most about the Stooges: the music. You’ll come out believing that they were one of the wildest, timeless and most significant rock ‘n’ roll bands that ever existed.
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