Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Gimme Danger takes a look at the origins, impact and lasting legacy of late sixties Ann Arbor, Michigan rock act The Stooges. The movie approaches this pretty much all in chronological order, which means we get to learn about James Osterberg's home life growing up in a trailer with his parents before he discovered music. We learn about his early days playing drums in The Iguanas and then, of course, how he formed The Stooges with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums respectively and with Dave Alexander on bass.
Hanging off of the MC5 to a certain degree, The Stooges quickly developed a decent following thanks to their unorthodox sound and Iggy's unparalleled ability to work up a crowd. We learn how they were signed to Elektra Records, and then dropped from their roster not that long afterwards, and we learn about how after The Stooges did stints in California and New York Iggy met Bowie and wound up in London for a while, out of which came the Raw Power album. We learn of Dave Alexander's passing and about the involvement of Steve Mackay and James Williamson, how Iggy eventually went solo and then, in 2003, how The Stooges got back together with some help from Mike Watt and J. Mascis.
All of this is told through a mix of newly shot interviews with Iggy, Ron and Scott Asheton as well as their sister Kathy, James Williamson, Danny Fields, Mike Watt and a few others alongside archival clips from throughout the decades demonstrating the band at the height of their powers. If you don't know anything about The Stooges, it's all pretty fascinating. If you do? Well, it's probably not going to teach you much, as the documentary doesn't really cover much that hasn't been covered elsewhere and in certain regards, it really only scratches the surface of the band's history. The documentary almost completely looks over Iggy's lengthy solo career, which is fine, except that in doing so it omits the Skull Ring album, which (like it or not) is an important stepping stone on the way to the eventual reunion. The film also overlooks a lot of the substance abuse issues that plagued the guys and that clearly had an effect on the music. The Bowie era is also shortchanged here, as is the band's influence on other musicians. It's touched on, but it leaves a lot left untold and in a lot of ways, Gimme Danger comes across as a bit of a puff piece, never scratching below the surface as much as it should have.
This is not, however, a waste of time. Given that Iggy is the only original member of the band left alive, it's not surprising that most of the interview footage is with him. He's a charming guy. He's got a great sense of humor, a quirky way of telling a story and he's just interesting and entertaining to watch. He's also a force to be reckoned with on stage and the movie does cram in a lot of great clips of him in his prime working the audience, be it by dancing around like a lunatic, literally bending over backwards, or crawling out onto the audience and covering himself in peanut butter. There are a lot of very cool archival photos taken from throughout the band's career used here as well, and if some of the animation used to reenact certain moments if a bit corny, we can look past that. And yeah, the live footage Jarmusch uses doesn't always match up with the music he puts behind it, and did we really need clips from The Three Stooges thrown into the mix?
So yeah, this isn't the be all, end all perfect rock band documentary some of us wanted it to be, but it's pretty good, a love letter to the band more than anything else. It's funny, a little sad at times and it treats its subjects with respect. It covers all the basics of the band's history and just a little bit more and it's loaded with great clips and pictures. It's stylishly put together, well edited and that music… hot damn does it ever hold up really, really well.
Gimme Danger is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and the transfer is fine. Obviously a lot of the older archival material can and will look a little worse for ware and the occasional analogue tape insert sees video quality dip a bit now and then but the newly shot material is clean, crisp and colorful.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix with removable subtitles offered in English only. Again, when archival material is used there is sometimes a noticeable drop in quality but the new footage all sounds just fine. Levels are generally properly balanced and the film's use of music sounds quite good here, plenty of classic Stooges tracks spread out into the 5.1 mix rather well are used throughout the picture.
There are no extras here at all, not even a trailer, just menus and chapter selection.
Gimme Danger stops short of being truly definitive, it's not in-depth enough for that to really happen, but as a primer to what The Stooges were all about and why they matter so much to modern day rock n roll, Jim Jarmusch's picture is decent. Even if you already know the story, hearing much of it in Iggy's own words has some value, as do the scores of archival clips and pictures. Recommended for fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.