I was lucky enough to see the The Stooges in concert around ten years ago, when they had reunited and were in the process of recording new music. And director Jim Jarmusch was there. He wasn’t on stage though, or off in the wings somewhere, he was standing in amongst everyone else. Jarmusch may be a famous filmmaker and reportedly a close friend of Iggy Pop, but he’s also a serious Stooges fan that clearly wanted to watch his favourite band out in the crowd with ‘the rest of us’.
Jarmusch’s new documentary about the band, titled Gimme Danger after the song on the band’s 1973 album Raw Power, opens with Jarmusch talking to Iggy. It’s the only time you see Jarmusch on screen and he refers to The Stooges in this sequence as, “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever”. This is the work of a filmmaker utterly in love with his subject, and as a result this is a perfect film for fans of The Stooges – a film made by a fan for the fans, if you will – but because Jarmusch is clearly so besotted with The Stooges, his enthusiasm also seeps into the movie in a more meaningful way, making an incredibly compelling case as to why non-fans should take another look.
The Stooges were a band underappreciated in their time – when they were first active between 1967 and 1973 – and Jarmusch does a great job of giving an overview of the history throughout this period, including the way in which the band disintegrated in 1973 amidst a great deal of drugs and a severe lack of crossover success. What he doesn’t really get into though are the times when the band split up during this period, or any disagreements amongst the band members. If Gimme Danger is to be believed then The Stooges were a band that never really seemed to fall out or find fault with each other.
There is the strong case to be made for why they might actually have been more content in some respects than other groups though: they were all so keen on keeping things fair. Iggy even describes them as “Commies” on multiple occasions. When they did finally reform in 2003, Iggy asked for more money for there first gig as he wanted to ensure there was enough money to spread fairly three-ways.
The doc is told for the most part using a number of recorded interviews with Iggy and this narration – Iggy appears to have a great memory and is incredibly articulate – forms the backbone onto which the rest of the film is pinned. This is not a story just about Iggy though and, interestingly, Jarmusch skips forward from 1974 to 2000 at one point, essentially because the events in that period weren’t relevant enough to the story of The Stooges. This is perfectly in keeping with this fair approach that Iggy talks about. This is about the group, not the individual.
Jarmusch makes great use of archival interviews in addition to newly filmed ones – including footage of Scoot Asheton speaking prior to his death in 2014 – and fills the film with numerous clips of The Stooges performing live. This helps ensure that the film flies along at some clip, buoyed by the thrilling electricity of this live footage. Jarmusch also uses a lot of found footage, including clips from films, infomercials and so on, to amusingly cut to, to illustrate a point, or underline a sentiment being expressed. A series of animated sequences also help visualise the stories that are told. It’s witty, playful and helps make the already highly engaging documentary even more compelling to watch.
The only sour note in Gimme Danger is oddly the aforementioned lack of conflict, but Gimme Danger is still an incredibly entertaining, informative and frequently thrilling documentary that brilliantly conveys the power of The Stooges as a band, their influence, and what made them such a unique group of people. Also, thanks to Iggy’s extraordinarily eclectic and intelligent grasp of music – I first heard Harry Partch after reading an interview in which Iggy talked about him – this doc won’t just have you rushing for Stooges records but (re)connecting with Sun Ra, The Shangri-Las, Pharaoh Sanders, and more.