'Gimme Danger' offers a shaggy and hilarious look at The Stooges
Jim Jarmusch's look at his friend Iggy and his legendary band is no slick rock doc.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
3 (out of 5) Globes
Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch are friends. The singer appeared, playing sheepdog to Tom Waits’ cranky wolf, in a 1993 short subsequently catalogued in the filmmaker’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” Three years later, he donned a dress out West in “Dead Man.” Their third movie together, “Gimme Danger,” is a more formal affair: It’s the official rock doc for Iggy’s eight-megaton proto-punk outfit The Stooges. Jarmusch plays by the genre’s rules, but not all of them; this is a shaggier affair than most, trading slickness for chumminess, including better stories than Iggy and company would hand strangers. Iggy’s so chill he does half of his talking heads next to a washer and dryer, while guitarist-turned-producer-turned-engineer-turned-guitarist James Williamson files his from what looks like a public restroom.
Jarmusch calls them “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever,” though his film is anything but reverential. Still a goofball after all these years, Iggy leads his cohorts — two, Ron and Scott Asheton, have passed on since their onscreen testimonials — in dwelling on the screw-ups more than their master strokes. Hailing from arty Ann Arbor, they stumbled like a batch of Clouseaus into a scene that didn’t want them. They were so un-professional they wrote half the songs on their debut album the day before recording them, and actually called up Moe Howard to ask to use the name. They weren’t even good druggies: Iggy recalls “curing” a towering marijuana leaf by putting it in a laundromat dryer.
But if they barely eked out a space in the music scene divided by psychedelic flower children and insipid pop ditties (or both: hear Iggy mock CSN’s “Marrakesh Express”), they weren’t content to simply be filed for future interest. Their shows were massive attacks, a manic, dog-collared frontman bouncing about against a Stonehenge of sound, and sometimes disappearing into the crowd for minutes on end. Iggy claims to have invented the stage dive, and he has the since-replaced front tooth to prove it. If their first three albums aren’t proof enough, The Stooges can always claim credit for creating punk. But they had more in common with the raw power complexities of post-punkers like Wire and Swell Maps. Their songs were the equivalent of land mines, but you could spot the genius even after the dust settles.
As a rock doc-maker, Jarmusch isn’t always clear about particulars, though that’s partly because who could remember everything in a ride that includes playing “little brother” to fellow bombasts MC5, having Nico as a houseguest and — maybe — receiving verbal abuse from John Wayne? Jarmusch, the acclaimed and austere filmmaker, seems to fill the screen with stuff that’s below him: cutting to Three Stooges clips, treating stories to silly animated segments, trying to synch album tracks with scratchy live footage and usually failing. But he’s with them in spirit. As the tale winds into their mid-aughts reunion and belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Iggy voices pride in never having selling out, in always doing it for the art, not the money. In Jarmusch, maker of this pokey and loving little program, he has a brother in arms.