Before The Offspring and Rancid, before The Sex Pistols and The Damned, before The Ramones and The New York Dolls one band stood out as a link from the garage rock of the mid-1960s to the supposed nihilistic shock of punk.
A quartet of misfits from Ann Arbour, Michigan now in many ways more famed for merely existing than for what they actually did during their initial brief explosion of a career; Iggy Pop, Rock Action, Ron Asheton and Dave Alexander, aka The Stooges.
With Gimme Danger filmmaker Jim Jarmusch explores the band’s formation, career and aftermath in a surprisingly open fashion with contributions from as many past members of the band as possible along with a few who were close to the band both personally and professionally.
Throughout though it remains clear, for better or worse, that this is a story centred on The Stooges’ focal point, beating heart and barely contained explosive generator, Jim Osterberg, otherwise known as Iggy Pop.
After an initial intro of the bands mid-1970s demise amidst a miasma of drugs and feedback, Gimme Danger takes a relatively chronological trip through the history of the band from Pop’s formative musical steps right up to their Raw Power-era reunion in the early 2010s.
For the most part this is navigated by Pop, interviewed in two striking locations of a trailer like the one where he grew up and an elaborate throne like seat in an ostentatiously appointed ‘rock star’ abode, tellingly accompanied by a pair of skulls that’s it hard to not link as the spiritual presence of the Asheton brothers.
Pop takes us through his uncontrollably hyperactive childhood, his discovery of the drums and his brief time spent as a jobbing drummer with a love of the blues in Chicago before the formation of what was to become The Stooges began.
This opening chunk of the movie is certainly its most interesting before all the standard machinations of the record industry and excessive life of a touring band come to the fore.
Here we get a real sense of not just the band’s reputation as performers but where they came from and how they came to make the noises they did.
Along with Pop we hear from Scott ‘Rock Action’ Asheton and the Asheton’s sister Kathy about their formation in the counterculture hub of the Mid West that Ann Arbour was, as an interest in blues, freeform jazz and garage rock all came to bear on the initial trio before Alexander joined their ranks and they began to make waves in nearby Detroit.
As a whole things are presented in pretty standard format; talking heads, archive footage and contemporary, scene setting news reel tell us the visual story.
With this comes a real sense of this band being something different and that comes across in the mesmerising story telling by Iggy. Backing him up are interesting asides from recent interviews with Scott Asheton and the band’s saxophone player Steve Mackay.
In this intro Iggy lays out the basic philosophy of the band which, it seems according to the singer at least, remains to this day as they moved into a squat in Detroit and lived as ‘real communists’ in a non-political, all shared communal sense.
Once the band are formed and encounter the MC5 its a non-stop ride with barely a pause for breath and Jarmusch creates a real atmosphere of this through the recording and touring around their self-titled debut and Fun House and then again around Raw Power and the total collapse of the band in its aftermath.
Here members come and go and interactions with the likes of Nico and David Bowie sweep by with little time for analysis which feels entirely fitting for the band and I’m not sure I’d want too much analysis of their primal noise which is typified by the astonishing blast of fuzz that opens I Wanna Be Your Dog and sets this passage in motion with a genuine shock cut feel.
A great montage shows us the influence the band has had on others, including some great editing together of the likes of No Fun being performer by various bands, before we head into the reunion years.
Much like the formation years this is an interesting section due to it being less well-known and less formulaic of so many music documentaries, but equally it doesn’t feel over dwelled upon as this is far from The Stooges creative zenith.
Rounding off with a great time warping montage of I Wanna Be Your Dog and a choice quote from Pop that again gets across his outsider philosophy, Gimme Danger is a no frills exercise in telling the story of a band without removing their mystique but still offering insight.
I think its fair to say a film like this has done well when the first thing I want to do afterwards is dive into the back catalogue at the loudest volume possible, with this Jarmusch gets the all important ‘groove and feel’ of The Stooges that is what marked them out and still makes their initial trio of records so impressive.