It’s one of the greatest opening lines in the history of rock and roll, delivered by a frontman perpetually on the edge of destruction and a band one step away from the abyss. The Stooges were there at the burth of punk and influence no small amount in the following decades. There’s been a lot written about thems over the years (From the Velvets to the Voidoids and Please Kill Me are both amazing reads, both for fans of the band and the American punk scene), but now longtime Stooge fan Jim Jarmusch has finished the doco he’s been working on for the least 8 or so years. Does it cut the mustard? Yep, but not without a few reservations.
First off, lightning strikes on the train network meant I missed the opening 25 mins. Not happy, but what can you do? What I saw I really enjoyed, but I left wanting more – details are glossed over or sometimes frustratingly short. I get it, you only have so much time, and with Iggy Pop now one of only two surviving band members, well, you take what can get. Fortunately, there’s a good amount of footage with the Asheton brothers (Ron and Scott) and saxophonist Steve McKay, but the bulk of the film is narrated by Pop and James Williamson, who’s post band career as an exec at Sony bringing much laughter from the audience.
It’s an oddly bloodless film – for all of the stories of debauchery, chemical indulgence and general bad behaviour concerning the band there’s precious little of it in the film. Sure, I’m happy that that’s not the sole content of the film*, but it struck me as somewhat sanitised, like an episode of Behind the Music. It’s almost too much a fan of it’s subject to be objective – treating them as the single greatest thing before and since sliced bread. I mean, I adore the Stooges, but they aren’t the Ramones.** There’s no mention of Pop’s solo career and a tiny mention of the Asheton’s various post Stooges bands, until the groups ‘reunification’ (As Pop calls it) in the early 2000’s for one of Pop’s solo albums, followed by a more formal reunion, ending with the death of the Asheton brothers, Ron in 2009 and Scott in 2014. Tragedy and triumph in equal measure.
On a side note, while the Golden Age cinema is lovely (From the little time I spent there), it really didn’t feel… me. It was dark, with pretty people having conversations over expensive looking cocktails. (The place I’ve felt most uncomfortable was still the Ivy Bar in Sydney, which I spent about an hour in after a work function and immediately wanted to burn to the ground and salt the Earth so nothing would grow there again. But I digress…) There was also the audience – there was the occasional chuckle at a joke or sad noise at an annoucement of a band member’s death, but little else. I’m reminded of seeing Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey at a film festival in Sydney, with the hilarious contrast of the audience being half tweed jacket wearing David Stratton wannabes and the other half looking like… well, me.
Self portrait by the author.
What really got me was they barely seemed to move duing the film, outside of looking for the toilet. I don’t understand people who can listen to music and not be moved by it. Take the opening riff to ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ or the chaotic shrieking of ‘Funhouse’ – how are you not up and rocking out? Reminds me of seeing Metallica a few years ago where there was a guy sitting a few seats away who barely moved through the show, not even when The Four Horsemen kicked in. Not for Master of Puppets, Ride the Lightning, not even Seek and Destroy. There was a point there I wasn’t sure he was breathing… Look, I’m probably taking it too seriously, an accusation that’s been leveled at me before and to which I say guilty as charged m’lud. But this is some of the finest music comitted to tape and to sit down and not move while it’s playing is something that SHOULD NOT BE DONE.
If you’re a Stooges fan, it’s well worth checking out. If you aren’t, buy the albums first and then check this out. Of course, you should have the albums already, but I’ve been known to judge people on how many Ramones albums they own, so I’m not exactly unbiased.
3.5 Street Walking Cheetahs out of 5.
*If I want that I’ll re-read Motley Crue’s The Dirt.
** A fact acknowledged by no less an authority on the matter than Lemmy himself.