“Gimme Danger” suffers from an unusual problem: its subject matter is far too cool. If Iggy Pop and the Stooges were the type of band to have twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures of their every evolutionary stage, they wouldn’t have been Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or worth making a documentary about. This is the bind Jim Jarmusch finds himself in—how do you make a movie about a band that found most of its success outside the notice of anyone with a camera?
“Gimme Danger” is a vigorous, but unsuccessful, attempt to get out of the bind: using family photographs and the still surprisingly sharp memory of Iggy Pop (James Osterberg), Jarmusch constructs a detailed scale model of 1960s Detroit, where Osterberg grew up in a tiny trailer with his parents, who may be eligible for sainthood on the basis of one detail alone: while living in a tiny trailer with their teenaged son, they allowed him to take up the drums. Jarmusch goes to great lengths to recreate the formative sounds Osterberg recalls from childhood, and gives ample time to his experience at the University of Michigan—unlike most rockumentaries, “Gimme Danger” is clearly interested in the music, more than the drugs or the lifestyle or the glamour of rock. Unfortunately, this leads to a laggy second half, because (as it turns out) when you subtract drugs and glamour from the rock scene of the 1970s, there is not a hell of a lot to discuss. The band tries, and fails, to make an impression commercially; personal matters are tactfully alluded to; members come and go with little acrimony. The nearest we come to heat is when Osterberg takes a gentle, almost mannerly swipe at CSNY—the remark passes with nary a ripple. Jim Jarmusch digs around for nearly two hours, and reveals exactly one surprise about the man who wrote “I Wanna Be Your Dog”: he is, at heart, a polite Midwestern boy.