The premise of Jim Jarmusch’s documentary Gimme Danger is simple: Iggy Pop, along with surviving band members and fellow rockers, tells the history of The Stooges, one of the very best and most influential bands of the 20th century. It’s a standard talking-head-mixed-with-archival-footage deal, with a dose of Gilliam-esque animation thrown in for good measure, making it one of Jarmusch’s most conventional films to date. Despite its traditional nature, the film is far from out of step with his thematic interests, let alone his oeuvre. Pop previously appeared in Jarmusch’s 2003 anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes, and the director has expressed his admiration for the group before; more than that, Gimme Danger indulges in the digressions and slice-of-life portraiture that are hallmarks of his career. If Jarmusch has a goal with Gimme Danger beyond putting the history of The Stooges on film, it’s to create the feeling of hanging out with Iggy on a nice afternoon while he tells stories for hours.
Beginning with the devolution of The Stooges in 1974 caused by Pop’s heroin addiction and poor record sales, Gimme Danger flashes back to Pop’s childhood, as he grew up in a trailer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, slowly becoming enamored with rock ‘n’ roll music. Citing Howdy Doody and Soupy Sales as performance and songwriting influences respectively, Pop explains his beginnings as a drummer—he eventually took over his parents’ master bedroom because it was the only large enough place for his kit—his time spent at Discount Records where he was introduced to John Coltrane and Harry Partch, and his involvement with numerous smaller bands that masked as a low-grade identity crisis. A key story: After sitting in with bluesmen in Chicago, Pop recalled that he smoked a joint by the river and truly realized he was not black, thus propelling him to become more of himself.
These early anecdotes vary in interest, but Pop’s actual recollection and retelling of them render them de facto compelling. His scruffy, baritone voice coupled with his comfortably weathered image still commands awe, even when he’s just sitting in a chair and not shirtless, crowdsurfing, and throwing peanut butter onto the audience. There’s no artificial nostalgia in Pop’s version of history, just an evocative, all-too common story of lost children flocking to a mode of expression that finally offers power and control. In other words, to become Gods.
As Iggy moves into the Stooges part of history, band members like drummer Scott Asheton and guitarist James Williamson come into the picture (guitarist Ron Asheton appears in archival footage and original bassist Dave Alexander died of complications of pancreatitis in 1975), more tempered and less directly compelling as interview subjects than Iggy, but still adding color and charm to the portrait. Oddly enough, it’s Mike Watt of The Minutemen and Firehose, the bassists of the 2003 reunion-era Stooges lineup, who comes across as one of the most dynamic storytellers, especially in a touching story of how playing Stooges songs helped him relearn bass after emergency surgery.
Of course, the raw power (no pun intended) of the archival footage is arguably the primary reason to see Gimme Shelter, as footage of Iggy acting like a manic superhero bringing his energy to the mass will send chills down your spine, likely even if you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool Stooges fan or a “rawk” obsessive. As with all iconic rock stars, Pop exudes a command of the crowd akin to a preacher or a cult leader. Somewhere amidst the preening and jumping, while he’s dirtying and bloodying himself up, yelling or singing at the crowd, Pop reaches transcendence, becoming a mere conduit for The Stooges music, which he delivers atop the proverbial mountain. If this reads as dramatic or excessive, it’s only because that’s the type of mood Gimme Shelter puts you in, a fitting headspace for one of the most excessive performance artist alive today.
Though Tina already provided her thoughts on Jim Jarmusch’s second film of 2016, the feature film Paterson, about bus driver and poet Paterson (Adam Driver) and his daily routine in a single week, here are some stray thoughts on the film.
- Jarmusch’s approach has always been dominated by empathy and compassion, even if it hid behind oblique silences and steely cool subjects, but this has become even more foregrounded in his latest films. With Paterson especially, Jarmusch argues that everybody makes art in one form or another, even those who don’t explicitly identify as artists. Jarmusch reframes quotidian actions—conversation, chess, drinking, romantic pleas—as artistic ones, demonstrating how expressive language or comfortable movement can be perceived as a poetic feat. Even Marvin the dog, the closest thing to a “villain” in the film, acts artistically, at least in the eyes of Jarmusch, who clearly believes obstinacy and destruction can reach the threshold of beauty. It’s arguably Jarmusch’s most generous film.
- Maybe it’s because reactive or passive performances always read as impressive to me, if for no other reason than externalizing internal machinations is one of the most difficult tasks facing any actor. Even by this standard, Driver excels. Best known now for his explosive performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Driver works in a wholly new register here, expressing bone-deep kindness in his sincere delivery or orderly, Navy-trained movements. He compels almost solely through his character’s observation, watching the world go by and using snippets of the world in his poetry. His careful voiceover narration of his poetry-as-being-written not only mimics how our mind perceives the act of writing, but also provides a wonderful window into a complex mind masked by the relative simplicity of his daily tasks. There’s nary a performance like it this year.
- Jarmusch fills Paterson with too many wonderful details to fit here, but to focus on the bar that Paterson frequents every night for a second: Everything from the use of literal space—pool table in the middle, jukebox onto the side, cramped booths, tight seating at the bar—to Doc’s (Barry Shabaka Henley) tradition of putting clippings and pictures of celebrities who are born or have passed through Paterson on the wall, to the low mood lighting, to the tenor of the regulars’ personalities, to the warm, familiar dialogue that comes from sharing in another human being’s life day in and day out even for a brief moment in time, reaches a special perfection those who patronize local dives will truly understand.