Birmingham, Mich. (AP) — In 1969, Jim Jarmusch got his hands on The Stooges’ self-titled debut album, and the 16-year-old future filmmaker from Ohio was hooked.
“We were partly plotting our escape from Akron in the future and we were investigating whatever stuff we could get our hands on that was a little outside,” said Jarmusch, seated in a Detroit-area hotel suite next to Iggy Pop, frontman of both the band and Jarmusch’s new documentary of the group called “Gimme Danger.” ‘’We were Midwestern … and suddenly that was like, wow, this is our stuff: This is working-class, wild-ass primal music. Yeah, that had a big effect.”
The attraction never wavered, so Jarmusch said he eagerly accepted Pop’s invitation four decades later to make a film about the band. While technically it qualifies as a documentary, Jarmusch prefers terms like “celebration” and “investigation of context and influences.” Or, as he declares early in the film, “We are … interrogating Jim Osterberg about the Stooges — the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever.”
Whatever it’s called, it’s a compelling story about Osterberg — who became Iggy Pop — and his band that included late brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and James Williamson. The film chronicles the band’s rise from the outskirts of Detroit to dissolution amid drugs and commercial indifference — but not before releasing sonic blasts that would inspire hordes of fans and bands, including the Sex Pistols, Ramones, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then, there’s The Stooges’ resurrection in the 2000s, when Pop says they reunified to “finish up the job” with new music, triumphant tours and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The singer, who grew up near the college town of Ann Arbor, had long thought the story of his pioneering, proto-punk band, The Stooges, deserved to be told on film. But he “didn’t ask two people to do the damn movie, I asked one person.”
“(Jarmusch) knew all about the group and he had been coming to our shows anyway for no reason except to come to the show. He’s his own person, artistically,” said the 69-year-old Pop, dressed all in black save for some colorful sandals. “I thought, well, this would be a great opportunity, it would elevate the group to have someone of this stature see whatever they see and share that with people. And I knew he had the ability.”
Pop, who in person and on film candidly discusses his earlier appetite for drugs and the band’s propensity for self-sabotage, said he was still “shocked” to see “Gimme Danger” start with the 1970s demise and then move backward and forward from there. But he welcomed the “unique” approach of Jarmusch, which included animation, handwritten text and less-than-precise editing in an effort to “be true to The Stooges,” according to the filmmaker.
Jarmusch calls it an “emotional decision” to structure the film the way he did, because hindsight offers the chance to view The Stooges’ early failure far differently. He calls the first three albums — “The Stooges,” ‘’Fun House,” and “Raw Power” — “a classic gift to rock ‘n’ roll music” featuring songs like “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” ‘’Search and Destroy” and “T.V. Eye.”
“They had made those three things and now they’re 23, 24 years old going home to their moms because they’re rejected by the world,” said Jarmusch, as Pop laughs heartily alongside him. “I made my first feature film, ‘Permanent Vacation,’ when I was 26 years old. These guys had already made these three records and gone home. … Let’s just start with what they did and how they were treated by the world.”
The comment leads to an easy, brotherly back-and-forth between filmmaker and subject. “To be fair to the world,” Pop says, Jarmusch took the time to get a “proper education.” The New York filmmaker of “Broken Flowers” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” admits he “wouldn’t have been ready,” but praises The Stooges for their early gusto: “You just went for it.”
Pop allows that he could have been “more sensible” and “should have taken some music lessons, some singing lessons.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Jarmusch said.