Monday, April 25, 2022

Punk at the pictures

 Here's a fun piece I did for Pitchfork - a guide to punk movies. Framed as the 20 Best, it was originally conceived as "from the worst to the best", which explains the insulting tone of the early entries. Below is a really insulting one - the very first entry in fact - that got cut out to make for a round 20. 

CBGB (2013 – directed Randall Miller)

Considering the awesome historical material at its disposal, CBGB is an inexplicable dud. But let’s try explicating. The late Alan Rickman, great in costume dramas and rom-coms, makes for an awful Hilly Kristal. Where there ought to be a charismatic center to the movie, there’s a bleary slob with hooded eyes and a deadpan mumble. CBGB tries so hard to be gritty, but despite the dogshit, rodents, roaches and dead Bowery bums, unreality riddles the entire production. The punk club’s notoriously squalid toilet, for instance, is depicted as roughly six times larger than the real one (take my word, I’ve taken a leak there).  Even the rat in the kitchen looks groomed and shiny with health. Television’s Tom Verlaine gets electrocuted onstage but having that happen when he’s singing the line “lightning struck itself” from “Marquee Moon” renders it corny and false.  But the film’s largest failure is in the area of motivation and context: it’s never really clear why Kristal started the club, how it became a magnet for malcontents and misfits, or what those bands defined themselves against in the first place. Because the acts are introduced as hallowed legends, The Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie seem like stars-to-be rather than the striving nobodies, who might easily have got nowhere, that they actually were then.  Things get even worse when The Dead Boys turn up and Kristal decides out of all the groups they’re the ones he wants to manage. If Stiv Bators’s self-strangulation and blowjob theatrics aren’t repulsive enough, we get to see Rupert Grint as guitarist Cheetah Chrome exposing his pubes. CBGB was a monster flop, grossing just $40 thousand, less than one-hundredth of its budget. But at least they spelled the venue’s name right, rather than the common error CGBGs.