Lights, camera, IGGY! Punk rock icon James “Iggy Pop” Osterberg took the Detroit Institute of Arts by storm this past Tuesday to promote the new Stooges documentary “Gimme Danger.” The juxtaposition of punk rock vibes among the elegance of the renowned art museum set the stage for the sold-out event, as an eclectic mix of individuals poured into the theater eager for the film.
“I’m surprised they let the Stooges in here,” said director Jim Jarmusch (“Stranger Than Paradise”).
But no matter the oddity of the location, the Michigan premiere was a remarkable testament to the Stooges, a motley crew of Midwestern men who in 1967 found their sound in Ann Arbor.
Before the film started, we made our way up to Rivera court. There, shadowed by a mural of hard-working automotive industry men, a small red carpet was graced by Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the men arrived 20 minutes late. The court buzzed with excitement while Iggy and Jarmusch posed for photos. Noteworthy was Jarmusch’s suggestion to Iggy that they “do the Zoolander face.” Even more noteworthy was how well they pulled the look off.
Soon after, the group migrated to the theater and waited for the film to begin. To say the crowd was excited is an understatement. The moment Iggy walked on stage, hordes of audience members sprang to their feet, exuberant to be in the presence of a living legend.
The film is a fascinating 108-minute journey through the Stooges’ past, present and future. It’s stylistically brilliant and reflective of the band’s offbeat humor, morals and music. Jarmusch, the famous champion of independent cinema, took what could be a run-of-the-mill documentary on an iconic band and turned it into a love letter to the artists who created and the fans who followed punk rock. It’s a documentary that doesn’t take itself too seriously, just like the Stooges.
The film chronicles the band’s humble beginnings in Ann Arbor. To view footage and photographs that are practically undiscovered of Ann Arbor in the late 1960s was especially special for those who knew the town. At one point, Iggy recounted the night the Stooges became a “professional” band and were signed to Elektra Records. Along with MC5, they were performing in what is known today as the Michigan Union Ballroom. As students, watching footage of history made in the same room where we go to mass meetings was surreal.
Fittingly, surrealism is a theme throughout the film. To depict events which lack actual footage, Jarmusch uses animations. The addition of these animations brings life to old stories, though it’s not as if the stories needed much help. One in particular stands out – how the band got its name – born out of a joke that the members were like “The Three Stooges.” When they were officially signed by Elektra Records, guitarist Ron Asheton called Moe Howard, the leader of the Three Stooges, to check if using the Stooge name was okay. Howard’s response, according to Asheton: “I don’t give a fuck what you call your band, as long as it’s not the Three Stooges.”
As the film came to a close, the stage was set up for a Q&A session with Osterberg and Jarmusch, who took the stage with roaring applause from the audience. The first half of the Q&A began with questions from a moderator, prying deeper into the details of the film, and more importantly, the details about the Stooges’ connection to Ann Arbor.
When asked about how he selected the people he interviewed for the film, Jarmusch gave a simple answer: he wanted the documentary to be as personal as possible. He limited it to the Stooges and their family, with little material from outside sources. He even admitted to passing up on interviewing David Bowie, because he knew he couldn’t resist putting the footage in the film. Jarmusch displays a startling amount of discipline in his craft, keeping the film as intimate to the Stooges as possible.
Another interesting facet of the film discussed was Osterberg approached Jarmusch and asked for the film to be made, and Jarmusch asked Osterberg give him weed as payment. Throughout, the two had a lighthearted bond, giving relaxed answers to what could be serious questions. The moderator asked Osterberg if he had any input on the film, to which he replied, “If Jim asked me to write a song about him, I wouldn’t expect him to tell me how to write it.” It was pretty awesome to see such an important icon be able to put so much faith in the man capturing the band’s career on the silver screen.
It became very apparent during the session why Osterberg chose Jarmusch to direct the film. When asked about his connection to punk rock, Osterberg replied as I’d expect any punk to: the Stooges made “working class, ass-kicking rock ‘n’ roll and it spoke to me.” It was the perfect testament to the timelessness of rock ‘n’ roll. Over 40 years later, the fans’ relationship with the genre has not changed a bit.
The Q&A truly shone when Osterberg began to talk about his time in Ann Arbor. The film included multiple shots of him and the band on notable locations around campus, and the way Osterberg spoke about it showed his deep appreciation for the town. He spoke of the house on Hill Street where they first signed to Elektra Records. He talked about John Sinclair and The White Panthers and the little postcards they gave out to people on the streets. He reflected fondly on the revolutionary “hotbed” that was Ann Arbor throughout the `60s and `70s. The little details about Ann Arbor embedded in Osterberg’s memory were a beautiful tribute to the city where he grew up and where punk rock has some of its oldest roots.
It was a night of nostalgia come full circle to the present. No matter how much time has passed since that fateful night in the Union Ballroom in Ann Arbor, Iggy will always be special to punk rock and punk rock will always be special to its fans. In Jarmusch’s words, “look what they gave and look how they were treated.” Finally, the Stooges got the thank you they deserve with “Gimme Danger.”