The new documentary, Gimme Danger, is a brisk and entertaining look at the history of the seminal Detroit rock band, The Stooges, who are often credited with laying the sonic groundwork for punk rock.
As with so many innovators, The Stooges were not a big success — financially or critically — in their own time. Yet, their fingerprints are all over the work of bands as diverse as The Ramones, Sonic Youth, and The White Stripes.
Gimme Danger is a fond tribute, directed by an idiosyncratic genius, Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Paterson), but in an essentially conventional way. In fact, if the director didn’t include his own voice at the beginning, referring to Stooges lead singer Iggy Pop by his real name (Jim Osterberg), it would be easy to assume this movie was the product of a skilled craftsman who cranks out rock docs as a matter of course.
There are a few touches that set Gimme Danger apart from the average band bio. For example, Jarmusch starts the film with the band’s 1973 drug-fueled disintegration, as if to get this typical Behind the Music trope out of the way early. The last twenty minutes of the film are relatively unexpected too, covering the band’s “reunification” in the ’00s in a way that doesn’t feel like a tacked-on coda or footnote, but brings genuine closure to the band’s story.
In the middle, however, the film is pretty meat-and-potatoes. Jarmusch interviews the surviving members of the band, as of 2009 (original bass player Dave Alexander died in the ’70s, and pretty much every member of the band, apart from Iggy Pop and Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson, died during the film’s 7-year production process), and together they piece together the history of The Stooges’ brief but chaotic existence.
Squatting in abandoned houses in Detroit, getting stoned and listening to avant-garde records, befriending fellow Detroit proto-punks MC5, tapping into their primitive instincts through Iggy’s ape-like dancing, calling Moe Howard of the Three Stooges to make certain it was cool to use the name “Stooges,” getting signed to Elektra, doing lots of drugs, meeting Nico, doing more drugs, teaming up with David Bowie, and eventually hitting a professional brick wall.
The stories are all quite engrossing, and Jarmusch and his editors do a solid job of creating a visual compliment out of familiar and unfamiliar archival footage and photos, plus clips from old movies and new animation. Iggy Pop is charming and natural on-camera, and he seems to have a good handle on the experiences he has been through. The other members of the band don’t quite have Pop’s verbal panache, but they are disarmingly open about what The Stooges meant to them.
Overall, Gimme Danger is more successful as a primer for new fans than it is as an eye-opener for long-time devotees, but both camps should have a good time with the flick.
Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.