Early in Gimme Danger, Iggy Pop speaks lovingly of a high school field trip to a Ford factory in Detroit.
There, the man born Jim Osterberg Jr. heard what he calls “a mega-clang” — two plates crashing together to press metal — which would serve as his own artistic big bang.
Much of Iggy Pop’s early years were filled with noise, searching for the ideal form of expression, and the beauty of director Jim Jarmusch’s compelling, if shallow, consideration of Pop and the Stooges is how the film likewise hurls together a cacophony of influences — everything from Soupy Sales to Clarabell the Clown — and emerges with the protean sounds of one of punk music’s most influential acts. (One of the most fascinating insights, of the many Pop shares over the course of the film, is an anecdote about an early incarnation of the band simply banging out rudimentary songs, searching for inspiration together.)
Over the course of 108 minutes, Jarmusch stitches together fresh interviews with the surviving band members (guitarist Ron Asheton died in 2009; he appears in Gimme Danger via archival footage, while Ron’s brother, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, was interviewed prior to his 2014 passing) and situates the Stooges within the proper context: a lean, mean band of Midwestern musicians, fascinated by avant-garde composer Harry Partch but equally interested in shattering the psychedelic sound of the late 1960s. They wanted to create something faster, louder and more visceral from the pieces.
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As Pop succinctly puts it, the Stooges were mainly focused on being “people who had not lost their childhood in adulthood.”
Diehard Stooges fans likely won’t come away from Gimme Danger having learned anything particularly revelatory — the film is broad and covers the full arc of the band, from its early, grimy beginnings to its second act as a veteran festival headliner, receiving acclaim it was denied initially.
But as a celebration of artistic tenacity, Jarmusch’s appreciation for the band and its music serves as a handsomely made valentine.
The making of the Stooges’ landmark albums — their 1969 self-titled debut and 1970’s Fun House — gets most of the attention here, as manager Danny Fields candidly shares an Elektra Records executive’s thoughts on the band (and, in a way, the critical establishment’s initial reaction): “I didn’t hear a thing.”
(For those less familiar with the Stooges, Gimme Danger is a fine, kinetic primer.)
Among the recent spate of music documentaries, there has been a tendency to favor visual flash over a candid sense of realism. Rather than plumb uncomfortable depths, filmmakers have fallen back on animation or superimposed text on vintage images as a way of keeping rock icons at a remove.
Gimme Danger occasionally falls into that trap too, although Jarmusch wisely lets the battle-scarred band — surprisingly, there are precious few images of a bloodied Pop in his early ’70s prime, bruised by his frequent dives into the pit — speak for itself. The members wax rhapsodic about hungry days, and a deep sense of gratitude that the founding members survived long enough to enjoy the victory lap of the 2000s.
Inevitably, Gimme Danger is primarily a vehicle for Iggy Pop to reflect on a career that has, until the last decade or so, been conducted firmly on the fringes of the mainstream. That the singer-songwriter has matured into something of an elder statesmen for a new generation is touching, and his appreciation for having lived to see himself rightly hailed as a transformational figure in rock serves as a sweet undercurrent to Jarmusch’s film.
Although that “mega-clang” still resonates all these years later, and he continues to write, record and tour to sold-out houses worldwide, Pop strikes a decidedly retiring, reflective note in Gimme Danger’s closing moments: “I don’t want to be a punk,” he says. “I just want to be.”
Perhaps, after a lifetime of fast, loud and unpredictable, that’s enough.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Iggy Pop, Scott Asheton, James Williamson
Rating: R (drug content, language)
Running time: 108 min.