Iggy Pop is an unlikely choice to look so happy and healthy in 2016. But then since Keith Richards is still alive and churning out new riffs, anything’s possible.
Born James Osterberg, Iggy Pop took his primal stage performance to the limit -- and then took it further. With dyed blonde hair, the shirtless Pop (he got the look from Hollywood’s depiction of pharaohs), gyrated on stage like an exhibitionist on acid, wearing a dog collar he bought from a pet store as an accessory or sometimes nothing more than underwear.
Pop flailed about while contorting his body into the shape of an S. He writhed on the ground, and stage-dived into the audience. He rubbed peanut butter on his chest, and bloodied himself with broken glass. He also had his demons, including heroin, an addiction shared with his fellow Iggy and the Stooges band members.
The Stooges debuted on Halloween 1967 and broke up in 1974, only to reunite decades later. “Gimme Danger,” a documentary by longtime hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, is a valentine to the band that had little success at the time but went on to have an out-sized influence on rock music.
Jarmusch, in a voice-over, makes it clear where he stands, calling Iggy & the Stooges – guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton, bassist Dave Alexander and later, guitarist James Williamson – “the greatest rock and roll band ever.” (Fans of the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane and other bands can vent here. Done? OK. Let's move on.)
With terrific archival footage, interesting interviews, unexpected animation and lots of details, “Gimme Danger” is great fun to watch.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that the filmmaker chooses to skim the surface rather than delving too deeply into the messy story lines that surrounded the band.
Pop is in good humor, providing insight and displaying a surprisingly good memory. The story begins with his childhood outside Ann Arbor, Mich., where he fondly recalls growing up in a trailer – sharing a small space had the benefit of bringing him close to his parents, he says – and being in his first band as a drummer in high school.
To get attention, Pop played drums once on top of a 16-foot riser, standing out like an oil derrick.
His stage antics, we learn, were influenced by the zany actions of Clarabell the Clown on the popular kids show “Howdy Doody.” The band’s sound was impacted by the loud mental clanging heard at the Ford stamping plant. And his songwriting would follow the word count of 25 words imposed by the comedian Soupy Sales when asking kids to write him letters, which Pop faithfully did.
Pop talks about going to Chicago to be around blues musicians and playing once with Big Walter Horton, before returning to Michigan and forming the Stooges. The band was signed to prestigious Elektra records, after being part of the Ann Arbor music scene along with the MC5. But despite a helping hand from David Bowie in London while recording “Raw Power,” the last of the band’s three albums, the Stooges folded with its members beaten down, broke and, in the case of three of them, returning home to live with their parents.
Scott Asheton and Williamson offer helpful insight into those early years (Ron Asheton died in 2009, decades after Alexander.) Williamson’s story is fascinating, going from a career as a Silicon Valley executive back into the Stooges when the band reunited in 2003.
Although none of the band’s albums ever broke into the Top 100, the group long ago got its due. It was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
“Gimme Danger” doesn’t require liking or even knowing much about the band to be entertained. But don’t be surprised if, after watching the film, there’s an urge to blast “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Search and Destroy” and the film’s title track after leaving the theater.
3 stars (out of 4)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Iggy Pop, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Danny Fields
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: R for drug content and language.
The lowdown: A documentary about influential rock band Iggy and the Stooges.