Not Right: Stooges Doc Gimme Danger Reviewed

Jennifer Lucy Allan reviews Jim Jarmusch's Stooges documentary, but is it a Real Cool Time or an L.A. Snooze?

Gimme Danger should be called Gimme Safety.

I’m not a Jarmusch fan. I find him conceited and smug. The hair! The glasses! It’s so self-aware, so fucking arch I want to scream. Jarmusch films are for people who buy records to put the artwork on the walls. I dislike his male protagonists: men I could easily overpower and/or that do a lot of whingeing and flapping, but that’s my problem, talk to me about it later.

What I dislike more than Jim Jarmusch films are BBC4 music documentaries. The ones that are always on, with a string of talking heads in shiny, dead, lowlit studios. Comedians and ageing rockers who we might have heard of and were available, not that they knew the band, or have any fucking insight, but they qualify because a) we know who they are and b) they own a record or two by the band in question.

Now imagine Jim Jarmusch made a BBC4 music documentary. Now remove all the stylised elements you’re imagining: the nice little black and white segments, the use of sound, the cuts and chronology of the thing. Because this might as well not be made by Jim Jarmusch at all, it might as well be just an off-the-shelf BBC4 music doc you ended up watching on Boxing Day because you think: “I like this band, I might learn something”. An hour later you’re squawking obscenities at the telly and someone has to change the channel and the subject, just to calm you down. That’s what watching Gimme Danger is like.

Only this is The Stooges. The fucking Stooges. The Stooges who got naked, bled everywhere, wore Nazi outfits, baited their audience, turned up too loaded to play. The Stooges who also played oil barrels instead of drums, swallowed the mic, hammered the amps: a fucking Faust of American rock and roll and fronted by Iggy Pop, a man who by all rights should not still be here.

This documentary has barely a whiff of that in. Not even the best anecdotes, the ones you’d roll out to explain to someone sat next to you on a plane how ‘mad’ The Stooges were. Apart from the fucking peanut butter one. It’s like someone’s dressed Iggy in chinos and a Ralph Lauren and made him network at a pool party. Only he’s dressed in a sharp shirt and pinstripe trousers and sat on a fake gold throne. I don’t know which is worse. The imagining or the reality. Fuck you Jim Jarmusch!

The worst part is the animations. Animations! How the fuck did you manage to water down The Stooges, Jim? I’ll tell you how. By deciding to animate a really weak anecdote about Scott Asheton going under a low bridge in a tall van with twee little cutouts that trot cutely across the screen, that’s how.

Iggy was still getting his cock out on stage at the reunion shows, but you know what nobody mentioned in this documentary? Iggy getting his cock out. Maybe you think there’s more important things to talk about, like basslines and guitar effects. Maybe that’s what Jim thinks. But really isn’t Iggy getting it all out what The Stooges were all about, literally and metaphorically speaking? Slap your dick out on the table and see how they fucking react.

Another thing: Ron Asheton’s wearing of Nazi costume and memorabilia is arduously explained (it wasn’t a Nazi thing, ‘it was what me and my dad did together’). Fine. At least you mentioned it Jim. But there’s no discussion of how people reacted. Did nobody ever mention it might be taken as massively anti-semitic Ron? Did nobody mention to you that you might have to explain yourself 35 years later? How do you feel about the way rock ’n’ roll history has largely forgotten that one of The Stooges was mostly dressed as the worst thing that ever happened in world history? Ron died in 2009, but the footage here still talks about his dodgy stage attire, in the form of a short segment where he explains and excuses himself. So with Ron not here, how do you feel about it, Jim?

Jim doesn’t answer, because he’s phoning it in on a bad connection.

What Jarmusch doesn’t do is tie the Nazi memorabilia, the cock, the audience-baiting, the sliced chests, the volume, the sound, the chaos, the fire, together into a bigger picture. It fails to show that The Stooges just can’t exist now. Bands wouldn’t get away with turning up to shows too loaded to play for very long. Bands like The Stooges would get dropped from festival bills as soon as Ron stepped on stage. Bands like The Stooges wouldn’t get a major record deal.

Maybe the simultaneous broadening and narrowing of the industry has pissed on the fire. We’re too sensitive. We can’t take The Stooges now.

But do I want us to be able to take The Stooges? I don’t know, I certainly don’t want some prick with a guitar marching around in a Nazi costume and pretending its subversive because The Stooges did it. It’s 2016! The subversion of the 60s, 70s and 80s is in the past. It existed for and in its own time and it’s impossible to emulate. How do you subvert in a year like 2016, which has done a pretty good job of subverting itself?

When mainstream music culture was intact it meant something for The Stooges, Throbbing Gristle, Devo and all the rest of the screaming dirtbags to be doing what they did, pushing against something solid: the mainstream. But when mainstream culture fragments into a million pieces; when there is no solid mass to push against, and when it’s all been done before, how do you do subversion?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that you don’t make a watered-down music documentary with cheapo drippy blood font and cute animations about a band that subverted like The Stooges, and then have the audacity to call it Gimme Danger.

Gimme Danger is out now

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today