The story of proto-punk legends The Stooges, as told here by those that lived it, is one filled with drugs, death, nihilism and German WWII regalia. For all its wild n’ crazy subject matter, then, director Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger is a by the numbers rockumentary that follows a well worn formula. A roughly edited, cut n’ paste opening sequence, wherein in Jarmusch announces his “interrogation” of Jim “Iggy Pop” Osterberg, suggests a suitably rough documentary aesthetic, but what follows is unfortunately clean-cut and straightforward. Sure, this is a ‘story of’ documentary and we expect a certain degree of clarity, but Gimme Danger could greatly benefit from a little more synthesis of form and content. Fortunately, the Iggy Pop led narrative is packed with enough wild yarns, hilarious anecdotes and genuine moments of distress and despair to keep our attention throughout. As far as music history is concerned, the story of The Stooges is vastly important; their unparalleled influence on contemporary alternative music is beyond dispute. With Jarmusch’s own dalliances in outsider music and well-established relationship with Iggy Pop (Osterberg starred in Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Coffee and Cigarettes), it would seem there’s no better man to tell it.
Gimme Danger’s greatest downfall is an unfortunately inescapable reality – an absence of raw footage to accompany the film’s weird tales. There’s plenty of wild onstage live footage of Iggy and The Stooges peppered throughout, but it’s nothing new for seasoned fans. In the absence of actual footage, Gimme Danger employs offbeat animation to bring its plethora of anecdotes to life. Regrettably, the animated aesthetic is a little on the cheap side and gets wearisome after only a few segments. However, Jarmusch succeeds elsewhere, employing an astute blend of word and music to bring other stories to life. The band’s back catalogue is utilised expertly and artistically, particularly during the stories throughout the band’s more successful years on Elektra records. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” plays over a transition from Michigan to New York, it’s raw power underlining the bizarre instance of the bands signing and the transition from obscurity to (relative) success. This was a time when labels took chances, admittedly calculated ones, but chances all the same – a point illustrated clearly when Jarmusch uses the overdriven freeform madness of “Asthma Attack” to soundtrack the band’s transition from New York to Los Angeles; the beginning of a more turbulent period for the band.
Gimme Danger doesn’t so much cement the band’s legacy as reiterate it. While the tragedy of many of the band’s members having died in recent years casts a more sorrowful tone over the final act, Jarmusch ends proceedings on a resoundingly positive note. Instead of having Iggy warble on about the band’s influence and importance, we’re treated to a number of bands covering Stooges songs over the years after the band’s initial demise: The Dead Boys, The Dictators, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Sonic Youth. Iggy, succinct as always, simply states, “I just wanna be.” Accordingly, Gimme Danger just is. It tells the story of The Stooges leanly, without frills or formal experimentation. Perhaps the documentary could have benefited from some of the freeform madness talked about so often by the band. Regardless, Jarmusch treats us to a tidy, well-told band biography, with enough one-liner wisdom from Iggy Pop to ensure future quotability and a couple repeat viewings.