James Newell Osterberg Jr – articulate, insightful, with a deep gravely voice that oozes like honey – is the man behind the infamous punk persona of Iggy Pop and the irresistible protagonist in rock-doc Gimme Danger. Seductively drawing the audience into anecdotes that mark an idiosyncratic narrative – “I was on my way over with a tab of mescaline and a shovel…” – he holds together this scrapbook of images, soundbites and raucous footage of the group dubbed “the greatest rock‘n’roll band of all time”: The Stooges.
As a director whose career has been dominated by working with musicians (Iggy himself has appeared in both Coffee and Cigarettes and Dead Man), Jim Jarmusch’s experience shows: he skillfully smooths over the inevitable gaps in footage of underground gigs performed in an analogue era with stop-time animation, film clips and documentary snapshots of riots, run in with the talking heads of the punk man and his band members. The result is a visceral, whirlwind journey through Iggy Pop and The Stooges’ history.
The feature takes a close look at the beginnings of the band and the influences that seeped into the frontman’s musical psyche throughout his career, shedding some light on how their unique style came about: his childhood obsession with music, his parents eventually giving up the master bedroom of their trailer in Ann Arbor to him and his drum kit; his lyrical style adhering to the advice of “Soupy Sales”, a TV comedian who said all letters should be 25 words or fewer; and an interest in an anti-melodic sound inspired by Harry Partch’s experimental use of home-made instruments. He explains his perpetually bare tanned torso as being inspired by the Hollywoodised look of the pharaohs, and infamous stage antics propelled by his realisation that “I couldn’t get a good take of a record out of the Ashetons if I didn’t dance”. The film also chronicles The Stooges’ demise in raw detail, depicting it as drug-induced disintegration, their gigs finally descending into irrelevance with Iggy’s self-confessed fall into the clutches of heroin.
Viewers are brought up close and personal with Iggy – and the essence of punk itself – watching his contortionist movements, immersed in the sweat glistening on his dog-collared sinewy figure, and looking straight into his drug-enlarged pupils. But after a striking start, the documentary sinks into a less compelling, loosely chronological detail of what came next. For what sells itself as a bare-all documentary, Gimme Danger leaves many stones unturned, glossing over details audiences are left hankering after, including Iggy’s personal life, some of his most sordid moments on and off stage, his interim solo career and an ambivalent relationship with David Bowie.
We get a glimpse, if not a full interrogation, of the person behind Iggy, and what drove the crazed man the onstage footage depicts, and a patchwork picture of the “impenetrable web” that makes up a definitive sound that has reverberated through the genre and beyond in the decades since. Though perhaps, like, Iggy, the film is all the more powerful for being so elusive: “I don’t want to be punk, I don’t want to be anything – I just want to be.”
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming 15th November 2016.
Gimme Danger is released in selected cinemas on 18th November 2016.
Watch the trailer for Gimme Danger here: