GIMME DANGER directed by Jim Jarmusch (USA, 2016)
“Things have been tough without the dum dum boys” sang Iggy Pop as a tribute to the original Stooges on his 1977 comeback album The Idiot, a collaboration with David Bowie that helped ensure that “the world’s forgotten boy” will not only be remembered but also elevated him to the status of one of rock’s great innovators and survivors.
This is a movie about The Stooges and a fan’s tribute to Iggy’s role in the iconoclastic band from Detroit.
Now fast approaching 70, Iggy still looks in remarkably rude health and is still performing bare-chested to show off his incredibly muscular physique. Despite many years of various addictions and regular self abuse he is living proof that,contrary to conventional wisdom, the drugs do sometimes work.
Iggy, aka James Newell Osterberg, and James Williamson are now the only surviving members from the golden era of The Stooges that brought us three bona fide classic albums – The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970) and Raw Power (1973).
Jim Jarmusch’s tribute is highly selective and takes it as a given that The Stooges are, in his words, “the greatest rock’n’ roll band ever”. Personally, I would agree with Steve Albini that Fun House is the best hard rock album of all time but to make the claim that they are the number one band is a bit of a stretch.
Aside from this masterpiece,their other work is occasionally brilliant but frequently flawed. Their debut album includes great garage punk standards like No Fun, 1969 and I Wanna Be Your Dog but also includes the turgid 10 minute filler track We Will Fall. Raw Power is full of great tunes but is weighed down by David Bowie’s shoddy production job that all but eliminates the rhythm section from the mix.
The fact that the two cash-in reunion albums – 2007’s The Weirdness (rated 1 out of 10 by Pitchfork) and Ready To Die (2013) are not even mentioned in this documentary also speaks volumes.
Gimme Danger is effectively a cinematic love letter from one Jim to another, structured around a long interrogation with Iggy in “an undisclosed location”. Iggy doesn’t gloss over his years of debauchery but spares us the gory details.
We never hear the director’s questions, but from the tone of the answers you know that his role if that of a doting fan. It is plain that he doesn’t want to probe too deeply or dwell on the excesses which are hinted at with a nod and a wink.
In other words Jarmusch uncharacteristically de-sensationalizes a sensational story to make the level decadence and depravity more palatable.
For instance, despite the rampantly salacious, not to say sadomasochistic, nature of most of the great Stooges material the film steers safely clear of Iggy and the band’s sexual exploits and attitudes. This is akin to making a movie about Mick Jagger without mentioning his womanizing.
Instead, the film focuses on entertaining, anecdotal stories surrounding the band’s formation and confrontational stage shows. Even the actual musical content is limited, with a soundtrack being mainly confined to half a dozen of their ‘greatest hits’.
The fact that there is only 15 minutes of poor quality concert footage means that we have to imagine the scenes of the near riots at their shows. These have been briefly captured on record with the bootleg album Metallic KO featuring crowd-baiting tracks like Rich Bitch and Cock In My Pocket recorded at “the last ever Iggy and the Stooges show” at Michigan Palace, Detroit in 1974.
To compensate for the lack of visual documentation of the band in action, there are several segments of crass, and mostly unfunny, animation to fill in the gaps. A story about playing, and destroying, an old pier is sloppily accompanied by old photographs of Brighton’s West Pier in the UK.
I understand why Jarmusch didn’t want to detract from the central personalities by including interviews with rock critics or celebrities but, at the same time, the movie is sorely lacking in any broader perspective, rawer content or critical analysis.
Drummer Scott ‘Rock’ Asheton, who died in 2014, is too wasted to offer any coherent insights and the more urbane, and healthier looking, James Williamson is as interesting for his story of turning his back on rock stardom as for his role in the band. Williamson gained an electrical engineering degree and pursued a successful career in Silicon Valley before being persuaded to rejoin the reformed Stooges after the sudden death of Ron Asheton in 2009.
One big plus of the movie is to honour Danny Fields as an unsung hero. The music manager and publicist was one of the few man with the taste and judgement to see The Stooge’s true potential, ensuring they signed to Elektra Records on the same day as the MC5. But for him, there would be no Fun House and the whole course of popular music might have followed a safer and more mainstream orientated course.
Needless to say Gimme Danger is essential viewing for any self-respecting rock fan but is also a missed opportunity. It is probably the most definitive study of Iggy And The Stooges we are likely to get but in deliberately airbrushing over the more controversial aspects of the band’s history it falls some way short of the full story.