The Stooges And Jim Jarmusch: Filming Danger

Iggy Pop’s Stooges get the documentary treatment from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“This was my dream, you know? That someone good—someone with solid stature and unlimited imagination—would take a look at the group in their own way; and then tell a story with their own skill and point of view. That’s how you get something to combust and start a fire.”

If anyone knows from the incendiary, it’s Iggy Pop. His entire career is the stuff of the flammable, with no element more ignitable than the Stooges. Pop’s raw-powered band of Michigan fellaheen came from nothing to hit nowhere (from the avant-garage of 1967 to the glam of 1974), quickly and arguably invent punk, then disappear, only to reunite and rise in 2003 until the deaths of its cocreators, Scott and Ron Asheton. That’s the documentarian’s tale that filmmaker/Stooges fan Jim Jarmusch took seven years to tell, at Pop’s urging, with Gimme Danger.

“He asked us to make this, and we went off and did it, but I had two elements of trepidation,” says Jarmusch, seated next to Pop. “The first was, ‘Oh God, what if we show it to Jim (Osterberg, Pop’s real last name) and he says it sucks? We’d have to shelve it. The other was a brief lack in confidence. I saw Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth. I loved it, as it took chances in making a portrait of someone by not telling the truth. All of a sudden, I thought what I was making was pedestrian, until I realized that we are celebrating the Stooges with no tall-tale telling involved.”

What this was, in both Jims’ eyes, was a story of the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever, one that, in the band members’ minds, was wild, emotional, funny, adventurous, disrespectful, loving, shaggy, primitive and sophisticated. “So we had to make a film that had all those parameters as its style,” says Jarmusch of Gimme Danger’s rough look with collage, cartoon flourishes to go with its rare footage (“Because our fans weren’t the heavily tech types,” laughs Pop) and boldly ferocious soundtrack. “In rock ’n’ roll if there isn’t anything stupid—and I mean this in a nice way—there’s something missing,” says the director, pointing out that the Stooges had to get name approval from the Three Stooges’ Moe Howard (who did not give a fuck) as part of the humor. “If all you are is earnest, you end up being U2.”

As for Pop, the only fear he had going in to the doc process was the 10-hour-plus interview at his home in Miami that served as Gimme Danger’s principal narration. “Here it comes, you know,” he says. “Talk it out. Then again, that’s why I made a career in stage diving. I’m used to not having trepidations.”

Pop mentions, too, that by this point he no longer has a problem seeing himself in states of dislocation and drugs’ throes that came with his famed past of throwing himself around a stage and into an audience’s (sometimes not) waiting arms. “I had been in this band and no other, so I don’t have many comparisons, but seeing things like the footage for the Cincinnati Pop Festival was normal to me then,” he says. “Now, it’s beyond different—but I could notice from my certain body movements that when I took certain drugs I moved certain ways. Those photos or footage: It’s starting to be OK to see that. Five years ago, I still had a hard time watching.”

Along with portraying the glorious Pop, the other characters in Gimme Danger are given equal truck and pluck, such as Detroit and Ypsilanti, whose dynamics are explained by Pop as part of Henry Ford’s “industrial monarchy over an agrarian paradise” but with a strain of radical intellectualism. Then there’s Pop’s partners in mad badness, the Ashetons, who, in Jarmusch’s words, “were real gentlemen, like Iggy. No matter what weird shit they went through together or on their own, that gentlemanliness showed through. Very Midwestern.”

If there were any lessons to be learned from Gimme Danger (other than to avoid making a documentary as warts-revealing as Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, a film Jarmusch “hated”), it’s simple and straightforward.

“Don’t be a dropout,” says Pop, laughing.

“Follow your instincts and don’t let the world fuck you up or turn you into sheep,” says Jarmusch, more seriously. Without naming the plight or light of the Stooges, he says, “If the world doesn’t get it at first, they will. It might just take a lifetime.”

—A.D. Amorosi