With their raw sound and brazen lyrics, the Stooges were highly influential in their heyday during the 1960s and 1970s. They paved the way for punk rock and inspired many of the top groups that followed, including the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Nirvana, and the White Stripes.
Gimme Danger, a rockumentary on the seminal band, is from Jim Jarmusch, who is best known for his minimalist, deadpan features such as Stranger Than Paradise, Broken Flowers, and the upcoming Paterson, which premiered alongside Danger at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
As with Year of the Horse, his portrait of Neil Young and Crazy Horse on tour, Jarmusch once again celebrates the artists who spark his imagination. Early on, he calls the Stooges “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever,” and sets in motion a tribute structured around talking-head interviews, mainly with the band’s frontman and icon of rebellion, Iggy Pop.
The 69-year-old rocker (formerly James Newell Osterberg Jr.) chats on camera, sometimes contorted with his legs folded underneath him, in a baroque space decorated with a skull and tiny piano. Flexibility is Pop’s hallmark, and he says he moves onstage “like baboons do before they’re gonna fight.”
An engaging storyteller, Pop points out the teeth he lost from jumping into an audience. In fact, according to music lore, he was the first to start the trend of crowd surfing. He was a provocateur, wearing theatrical makeup and scanty costumes or appearing shirtless in a dog collar. With his out-of-control reputation for self-destructive hijinks, psychedelic drug use, and groupie sex, it’s a wonder he’s still alive, though he now looks like an aging surfer due to his bleached blond hair, bright blue eyes, and baked skin.
Interviews with Pop and almost everyone who played with the Stooges create a time line of the band from their initial years in Michigan through their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. The early achievement of signing with Elektra Records, the release of three albums, their subsequent breakup, and an eventual reunion tour are all touched upon.
Archival footage, cutout animation, and video clips accompany the band’s chronology and a myriad of cultural references connected to the group, such as the Three Stooges Hollywood comedy team that inspired the moniker and Todd Haynes’s fictional version of the rockers, Velvet Goldmine. But too little music accompanies this film, and whenever it feels like an extended concert sequence will take place, it never arrives. Partial songs whet the appetite for more, the titular tune as well as “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun,” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell,” which exemplify the band’s nihilistic edge.
Gimme Danger is an entertaining albeit overlong history of a true original and his musical cohorts. It’s a barrel of fun for Stooges fans, but a minor work otherwise, even for Jarmusch devotees.