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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Looking For Johnny: The Legend Of Johnny Thunders
Looking For Johnny: The Legend Of Johnny Thunders
MVD Entertainment Group // Unrated // October 21, 2014
List Price: $16.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted November 19, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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Looking For Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders:
Writer/director Danny Garcia (The Rise and Fall of the Clash) went looking for Johnny Thunders. I don't think he found him. That's not a criticism. As far as rock docs go, this one ranks right up there. It's fascinating, invigorating, it's even (dare I say it ...) heartbreaking. Maybe it's just that Thunders didn't want to be found, then, or now, decades after his mysterious death. The more Garcia's interviewees peel away Thunders' skin, the more (for the most part) we find simply more Johnny Thunders.

Now for the blah blah: Garcia's documentary weaves the story of Thunders' life through interviews with dozens and dozens of subjects. In between interview segments you'll find archival footage, concert footage, the rare bits and bobs of Thunders himself actually speaking, and plenty of photos. (Kind of goes without saying, but some docs occasionally throw in something totally unexpected, so it's nice to know what you're getting.) In addition to the rest of the good stuff, Garcia pulls together some really nice, creative interstitial segments, making this a top-notch effort all around.

Johnny Thunders, of course, was one of the progenitors of punk rock, a skilled and crazy guitarist and songwriter who helped crank up New York Dolls with David Johansen in the early 1970s. After the Dolls crashed, Thunders went on to The Heartbreakers and did it all again. Dude kind of sort of couldn't catch a break, full of talent but a true believer in the Southside Chicago gangster motif of 'whupping the game' - that is making a living without much conventional effort. Garcia elicits this idea easily, with stories of Thunders' enthusiastic drug use and general disregard for showing up for gigs on time. It would take the rest of this review to list those who offer opinions onscreen or in long-ago phone conversations, but some notables include Malcolm McLaren, (the now-deceased phoner) Sylvain Sylvain, (who seems to be in every music documentary I review these days) Lenny Kaye, Leee Black Childers, Jill Wisoff, Donna Destri, and many many more.

One thing that shines through posthumously - which might not have been so readily apparent to observers at the time - is Thunders' love for his children. At least anecdotally it seems as if Thunders craved a connection with - and the ability to support - his kids, whom, as a rocker who moved through women with alacrity, he wasn't always able to do. Sadly, Thunders' ways caught up with him in New Orleans in 1991. His death remains shrouded in mystery, and the pall of sadness, death, drug use, and frustratingly unfulfilled potential hangs over this film like the bangs covering Thunders' soulful eyes. But fuck that, Thunders' talent and appetite for life's pleasures is what this documentary is about. Garcia brings that to light with plenty of music and concert footage, turning a big loss into a big gain for those discovering - or rediscovering - jumpy caterwauls from a time when six strings and an attitude were almost all it took to make an East Coast kid a star.

The DVD

Video:
Presented in a 16 x 9 ratio, this offering, like all historical documentaries, runs the gamut of Video quality. Crystal clear contemporary interviews suffused with glowing light and rich colors share screen time with grotty full-frame video footage - whatever was best available. No complaints about transfer or overall quality. You'll get an eyeful of those whose faces have aged into long saggy lines, yet are still duty-bound to wear studded leather.

Sound:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio also runs the board, from slightly buzzy concert footage and archival (or phoned-in) interview segments, to clean modern interviews. Any deficiencies in your listening experience are down to the source material, but everything sounds about as good as it can get. Also, this will make you want to break out your Dolls vinyl for that warm sound, even if many of Thunders' studio recordings didn't fully capture that live Thunders sound.

Extras:
The DVD comes in a hot-pink keepcase (a nice touch) with a Two-page Insert listing all the folks who contributed as well as a short interview with Danny Garcia, conducted by Thunders biographer Nina Antonia. Also along for the ride are nine minutes of Behind The Scenes ephemera based off of a New Orleans radio interview with Garcia, 20 minutes of Deleted Scenes, and three minutes of Rock 'N' Roll Relics with Billy Rowe - a Luthier who creates classic-style guitars including a Johnny Thunders model. Three Bonus Videos (about three minutes each) include a latter-year concert clip of Thunders performing "All By Myself", a montage video of the song "Alone in a Crowd", and a Stevie Klasson video of his song "Looking For Johnny".

Final Thoughts:
Danny Garcia's excellent documentary Looking For Johnny never quite finds the man, perhaps because he didn't want to be found, or perhaps because he wasn't around long enough to finally be discovered. What it does find is the true tale of a man arguably responsible for the punk rock sound, the glam rock ethos, and a jittery take on the guitar, which will have you jumping. Sad, glorious, and invigorating, this a fine, fine picture for old-school East Coast Musos and anyone else who needs to discover the costs and rewards of rock and roll. Highly Recommended.

- Kurt Dahlke

~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com

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