There will never be a better or more complete picture of Iggy and The Stooges than that presented in Gimme Danger. An absolute must-see for any Stooges fan, but also a fascinating watch for anyone even vaguely interested in rock history or extreme performance art.
I need to state from the outset that I’m a long-term fan of The Stooges. They were a central part of my youth (see The Geeks Story). So Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s doco on Iggy and The Stooges, is personal for me. Factor that into my review. Clearly, the film is personal for Jarmusch, also, who acknowledges his fan status in the intro, declaring The Stooges “the greatest rocknroll band ever.”
Content aside, there is nothing stylistically extraordinary about Gimme Danger. It adheres to the typical rock doco format, chronicling the history of the band in roughly chronological sequence through live performance clips, interviews etc. This is slightly surprising from a filmmaker as distinctive as Jarmusch, but he’s evidently made a decision to take himself out of the picture and train the spotlight exclusively on his subjects. The strategy is vindicated by the result. Gimme Danger is the most comprehensive and coherent doco on Iggy and The Stooges that we can hope for. That makes it an absolute must-see for any Stooges fan, but it’s also a fascinating watch for anyone even vaguely interested in rock history or extreme performance art.
During their 7 year lifespan The Stooges were viewed as a freakshow. Their fan base was small and only an enlightened few critics (eg: NME’s Nick Kent and Mick Farren) recognised that they were a unique musical phenomenon pushing rocknroll into new territory. The media focused on the sensationalist aspects of their live shows, and as industry and counterculture outsiders little was documented of their chaotic, drug and alcohol-fuelled slash-and-burn career. I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about them.
I’m delighted to report that I was mistaken – the film provides lots of new information, detailing the disparate elements that made The Stooges the singular primal musical force they were. Some of these are whacko. For example, Iggy traces his predilection for minimalist lyrics, best exemplified on the debut Stooges’ album – No Fun, I Wanna Be Your Dog, Real Cool Time, 1969 – to a 50s kids’ TV host who ran competitions of 25 words or less. His shirtless look was inspired by movies featuring bare-chested Egyptian pharaohs. And the idea for the dog collar he often wore on stage came from his spying one in a pet shop!
Iggy is given a lot of screen time, and rightly so. Customarily shirtless and long-haired, now approaching 70, he gives generously of himself, emerging from behind his persona to tell it like it was. He’s as charismatic as ever, an immensely appealing and genial personality without any of the snotty-nosed nastiness of the punk rockers he inspired, and a terrific raconteur – funny, articulate, irreverent, and at times moving in his openness and sincerity. He speaks of his parents, for example, with great respect and affection, adding that living with them in a trailer as an only child facilitated an extraordinary familial closeness.
And at one point, he tells of a formative incident in which some of the high school in-crowd he admired derided him for living in a trailer, which they then tried to push over. There is the implication that “getting them” was a primary motivation behind his commitment to outrage and confront as frontman for The Stooges. And when, visibly emotional, he raises a middle finger when accepting The Stooges’ belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, you sense it was to these arseholes.
There are some poignant excerpts of interviews with ailing drummer Scott Asheton shortly before his death, some archival contributions from his deceased brother and original Stooges guitarist Ron, and some brief but fascinating comments from their sister Kathy. James Williamson, the killer guitarist who joined The Stooges on their Bowie-produced twilit narco-nightmare third album, Raw Power, makes a rare appearance to add some colourful detail to The Stooges’ story.
All the existing film of The Stooges live on stage is included here. Unfortunately, there’s not much of it. Most will be familiar to fans (eg: Iggy’s famous crowd-walk), but Jarmusch has managed to chase down some previously unseen concert and rehearsal footage. If you’re into The Stooges that alone makes Gimme Danger worth seeing.
If I have a criticism, it is Jarmusch’s use of filler, such as scenes from old films with superimposed ironic speech balloons. Sure, he had to compensate for the lack of live performance footage somehow, but interviews with some of the members of the many notable later bands influenced by The Stooges would have been a better inclusion.
Iggy was a true original, a rocknroll visionary no less, and Jarmusch makes sure that comes across here. But although his vision fed into the band, it was not all about him. No guitarist plays like Ron Asheton, no drummer like brother Scott. No band sounded like The Stooges, or ever will. They were extraordinary and inimitable. Although virtually unrecognised during the few years in which they pillaged and burned, The Stooges were a cataclysmic event in the world of rock. The aftershocks continue even today. Indeed, there is a strong argument that The Stooges are the most influential of all rock bands, having blazed the trail for the punk rock revolution that erupted in the mid-late 70s and influencing many significant bands that have followed.
Gimme Danger is a fitting tribute from Jarmusch – no director could have done it better. And there will never be a better or more complete picture of Iggy and The Stooges – surely, the loudest, wildest and greatest kick-arse rock band that ever will be. If that’s not reason enough to chase down Gimme Danger, regardless of your musical taste, why have you read this far?
Australian release date: 26 Dec 2016 (@ Luna Leederville and Luna Outdoor in Perth)
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