THE STOOGES are hardly the type of band to be given the preening rock-doc treatment. Despite the esteem they accrued in the years after their 1974 breakup, the abrasive Michigan proto-punkers were woefully underappreciated in their time. They were under-documented, too—something that’s maybe a little too apparent in Jim Jarmusch’s documentary on the Stooges, Gimme Danger, which uses what scant primary sources exist, but fills the bulk of its runtime with of recent interviews with the band. The Stooges’ mouthpiece, Iggy Pop, gets the most words in, and as enjoyable as it is to hear him self-mythologize, the end result feels oddly perfunctory and severely lacking in context.
Jarmusch makes his bias clear from the film’s opening seconds, when he declares the Stooges “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever.” But rather than prove this thesis, he takes it as given, setting it as the baseline for a laudatory survey of the Stooges’ brief, troubled career, which saw three brilliant albums fall on disinterested ears. Pop’s confrontational stage antics pushed away as many potential fans as they won over, and the band fell victim to bad luck and some not-so-innocent mistakes.
There are choice anecdotes, recounted by Pop in his zen-trickster growl, and the film serves as a worthy tribute to the Stooges who have died: original bassist Dave Alexander in 1975, guitarist/bassist Ron Asheton in 2009, and drummer Scott Asheton in 2014. But while the overall arc of the Stooges’ story is amply covered, the film feels insular and uncritical. I’m not saying Jarmusch needed more talking heads (this might be the only rock doc made in the last 10 years in which neither Dave Grohl, Bono, or Henry Rollins are to be found, and hooray for that). But a band this wild doesn’t deserve a film this tame.