DIR/WRI: Jim Jarmusch • PRO: José Ibáñez, Carter Logan, Fernando Sulichin • ED: Affonso Gonçalves, Adam Kurnitz • CAST: Ewan McGregor, Iggy Pop, Mike Watt
“Let’s call the band “The Stooges” because we don’t do anything wrong but everyone’s picking on us”
Jim Jarmusch is a hip individual. The director is clearly in love with art and culture, something obvious when one watches Dead Man or Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai or Only Lovers Left Alive. Music is a major influence on his life with him going as far as to frequently casting musicians in his pictures – Tom Waits in Down by Law, Joe Strummer in Mystery Train and The White Stripes and Wu-Tang Clan in Coffee & Cigarettes. Thus, it’s no shock to see the auteur returning to the documentary format for the first time in nineteen years to direct a film about his rock star friend Iggy Pop (who had small but memorable roles in Dead Man and Coffee & Cigarettes) and his band The Stooges.
The documentary charts familiar territory, e.g. the formation of the band, their rise to success, their subsequent decline and their vast influence. Thankfully, however, the true-life story is interesting enough to sustain a movie. The fact that the film features Pop (who is a warm and lively presence) and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the band – guitarist James Williamson, bassist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott Asheton – speaking openly about their contemporaries, e.g. Nico and John Cale, their tribulations, and their lives post-Stooges is a major plus. Also, Jarmusch manages to take a film consisting solely of interviews, photographs and archival footage, and make it feel cinematic. The director adds animated sequences and clips from old Hollywood movies to enhance and punctuate the band’s often humourous summarisation of events.
Gimme Danger isn’t as experimental as typical Jarmusch fare (it actually has a very similar feel and story structure to the recent Oasis documentary Supersonic). However, there are brief moments where the director transcends the simple rags to riches tale. The auteur appears fascinated with the artistic process – taking momentary breaks from the story, told chronologically, to showcase the band’s vast array influences, musical and style wise. The viewer learns how Ron Asheton’s stage wear featuring Nazi symbols – which led many in the punk community to think the band were nihilistic in message – in reality, came from he and his Dad’s penchant for war memorabilia. Pop’s fashion, on the other hand, arose from his love of old movies set in Pharaoh-era Egypt. Perhaps, most interestingly, the band’s uncomplicated, repetitive lyrics are the result of a children’s show Iggy watched as a boy which would only accept letters from fans “twenty-five words or less”. With these small diversions, Jarmusch subtly highlights how even minor experiences can play such a huge role in defining one’s identity.
One does sense that the film was intended as a love letter to The Stooges rather than a probing exploration – the band’s complicated relationship with David Bowie, who ended up mixing their third album “Raw Power” perhaps could have been explored further. Thus, there is a lingering feeling that Jarmusch should have implemented more of the titular “danger” into his film. Yet, standard as it is, Gimme Danger succeeds at being a very enjoyable documentary that shines a light on a great, great band. Sometimes that’s more than enough.
Gimme Danger is released 18th November 2016