At the beginning of his latest music documentary, Jim Jarmusch makes explicit his position on the absolute superiority of the legendary proto-punk band The Stooges, with onscreen text dubbing them “the greatest rock and roll band. Ever.” He’s not exaggerating; the movie is the work of someone who’s clearly already made up his mind. What follows that opening is a melange of rock doc conventions and half-hearted attempts to subvert them, a surprisingly tame tribute to a group whose work was never even-keeled.
“Gimme Danger” charts the steady rise and fall of The Stooges, from the high school days of The Iguanas for iconic frontman Iggy Pop (née Jim Osterberg) through The Stooges’ days with the outspoken members of MC5 and Iggy’s eventual recruitment by London hitmakers. Apart from an in media res opening, the film charts a fairly chronological course, making time for anecdotes about The Stooges’ dealings with the cream of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s crop (Nico and David Bowie pop up in photo montages) and changes in the group’s personnel.
For a group as transformative and influential as “Gimme Danger” puts them forward as, there’s little in Jarmusch’s approach to substantively distance this from another rock profile. The crude typefaces, sloppy chapter headings, on-the-nose film clips and a bizarre fascination with superimposition make for a haphazard combination that’s closer to a phony faux-amateurism than any pure punk ideals inhabited by The Stooges. James Kerr’s collage animation breaks up the functional visual rhythm of cutting between archival, stills, and interviews, but it’s dispersed too sparingly to be integrated meaningfully into the storytelling.
Despite incorporating concert footage from various stages of the band’s history and evolution, nearly all the interviews are relatively contemporary. There are a handful of lines from various talk show hits, but all of the description of the creative process and any mention of group discord is all being done decades after the events in question. Nearly a half century after The Stooges’ first run of shows, there’s still an immediacy to footage of a lithe Iggy Pop gyrating on-stage, unleashing vocals that border on the primal. But that spark dissipates when the attention shifts back to the present.
As a form of fan workshop, “Gimme Shelter” is effective enough. But none of those recollections, whether wistful or uncomfortable, are balanced with any sense of personal reflection. The closest it comes are the passing references to “Raw Power” guitarist James Williamson’s second career as an executive in Silicon Valley, which seems like it could sustain an entire doc on its own, if not a network sitcom. Also, it’s jarring to hear about lean years and the tenets of musical aescetism from Osterberg, who’s conducting their interview from a literal throne.
The most damning thing about “Gimme Danger” is that it only works well when it’s conventional. The Stooges origin story, replete with vignettes from young life in late ‘60s Detroit, tracks a band that succeeded almost in spite of itself. Although the destructive cycle of rebellion and drug abuse is far from a familiar refrain for these kinds of rock history investigations, it offers a bridge to discussing a post-fame existence that’s almost always makes for a more compelling watch than reliving the glory days.
Filmmaker and subject both try to rekindle some of the old Stooges magic with a concluding montage of the reunited band playing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on a recent global reunion tour. As the refrain soars out over seas of adoring fans, “Gimme Danger” becomes the equivalent of someone thrusting a deluxe edition vinyl re-release “Fun House” in your direction, insisting that it’s going to change your life.
“Gimme Danger” opens in theaters on Friday, October 28.