One of the few movies I’ve been genuinely excited about in the last year is Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary on Ann Arbor proto-punk band, The Stooges (or Iggy and The Stooges), entitled Gimme Danger. Up until now there’s been plenty of stories surrounding the band’s short initial run from 1967-1974 but there were blank spots here and there as to what happened to some founding members that dropped off the map after leaving the band. The other area Jarmusch covers in the group’s history is the triumphant return in 2003 and what led to the reformation.
The film opens, as Jarmusch puts it, in an “undisclosed location” with frontman Iggy Pop which is assumed to be Iggy’s house. There’s a collection of quotes from the band recollecting their demise in ’74 before the title sequence that leads viewers to the beginning of Iggy’s life and what he experienced in his younger years that persuaded him to start the Stooges.
The Asheton brothers, Scott and Ron who played guitar (later bass) and drums respectively, are given their share of the spotlight in the film but it seems like they get lumped together a lot. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or not but the two brothers that were the brute force behind Iggy Pop probably deserved their own individual limelight. Unfortunetly, because of their untimely passing, much of their history is told through archive interviews, bandmates, and their sister Cathy Asheton.
It’s impressive to see footage and photos of The Stooges that hasn’t been used yet. While it’s mostly concert footage without sound, Iggy’s frantic dancing in the early days serves as enough noise to forget there isn’t any audio. After watching the movie twice, I don’t think Jarmusch uses any photographs or video clips more than once, which is admirable for an almost two-hour documentary about a band that didn’t last long. Of course, interview and stock footage is spliced in along with animations from one of my favorite internet artists, James Kerr.
It’s hard to tell if what the members of the band are recollecting are true or not as you go through the movie. All of the major highlights in their careers line up but it’s the anecdotes surrounding their partying and drug use that one has to wonder if they’re the real stories or if they’ve been recited the things they’ve done by other people so much that they assume they’re true. Either way, none of what’s recounted in Gimme Danger seems far off from their reality and if any of it is untrue, it’s entertaining as hell at least.
One of the best parts about Gimme Danger is what led up to the reformation of the band in 2003. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr was responsible but is not present in the movie (I don’t think he likes to do interviews anyways). Mike Watt of Minutemen fame, who filled the role of bass in the reformed lineup, does a good job of narrating the events that brought the band back together after a series of Stooges tribute shows featuring Ron Asheton. As Iggy puts it, The Stooges reformation was a “Reunification of our group, which I prefer to call it that rather than a reunion”. This term has more weight to it as you watch the footage of the post 2003 as they have the same energy they did in the 60’s and probably more than most bands do in the new millennium.
In the end, Iggy is talking about his childhood again in an attempt to bring the movie full circle, resembling a repetitive form for which The Stooges were known for using in their music. In the final anecdote, he talks about getting back at childhood bullies in one way or another and looking back at his career he indirectly accomplished that. An odd note to end on, I thought as there were so many things the band was known for doing during their career like the genesis of punk music.
Gimme Danger may not be the most inspiring documentary of the year, but it’s a glimpse into one of missing links in 60’s fringe culture. Definitely a non-pretentious take on a band that has every right to be pretentious and a must see for those that appreciate music in any form.
Click here to see the trailer for Gimme Danger.
– By Mike Metcalf