You know the story: Rock band from a blue-collar town cuts its own path, befuddles the music industry, struggles with addiction and fades into obscurity only to be celebrated decades later as a legendary and iconic group.
Even with all those same-old story lines, “Gimme Danger” — a new documentary on Michigan-bred punk pioneers Iggy & the Stooges — manages to feel different. Part of that is because the Stooges and frontman Iggy Pop were/are one of a kind. They were blue-collar punks who sparked panic at shows and hobnobbed with the likes of David Bowie and Nico from 1967-74 while often living with their parents in Ann Arbor.
The other reason “Gimme Danger” feels unique is because Jim Jarmusch directed it. Joining a line of acclaimed filmmakers making documentaries on their favorite bands (see also: Ron Howard, Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese), the not-for-everyone “Mystery Train” and “Stranger Than Paradise” filmmaker puts his own playful, esoteric spins on the rock-doc formula — twists hard to explain here, and better kept as surprises anyway.
Jarmusch’s artistic touches serve a practical purpose, though, since it seems he didn’t have a whole lot to work with visually. The film is light on old concert footage and early video of any kind.
Instead of seeing the spindly Iggy roll around on broken glass or vomit on stage, we only get to hear about it. And we don’t hear much from the other band members, since two of the co-founding Stooges died before the film’s genesis (guitarist Ron Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander) and a third during the making of the movie (drummer Scott Asheton, Ron’s brother).
Iggy’s more successful solo career remains untouched in “Gimme Danger,” so the only hint of a happy ending is the Stooges earning a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and a big payday for a Coachella reunion — although late-era guitarist James Williamson made out fine in the interim as a Silicon Valley tech pioneer (another fun twist).
If you’re looking for a rock star to carry a movie mostly by himself, though, Iggy (aka James Osterberg), now 69, is a good candidate. With a sharp-slicing grin, he dryly accounts some of the juiciest and goriest memories — making them all the more amusing — and is surprisingly blunt and spot-on assessing the band’s career. Half the film is him talking, and that’s just fine.