5 November 2016 | Pete-230
Tightly focused master class on making a rock biopic
Early in the film, Iggy mentions how Soupy Sales taught him to keep his writing concise and to-the-point (the kid-show host instructed that letters sent by viewers be twenty-five words or less). The lesson is not lost on Jim Jarmusch, who promises a documentary about the career of the Stooges and delivers exactly that. We get a recap of how they came together, followed by a solid recounting of their brief moment in the spotlight. When they fall apart in '73, the story stops abruptly, then jumps ahead to the group's revival in 2003 (with just a couple of words about what the Ashetons and James Williamson did in the interim). Iggy's solo career is almost completely unmentioned; fitting, as this is a Stooges doc, not an Iggy bio. Though he does get the lion's share of screen time, his recollections here are centered on the band, not himself.
Likewise, the interviews are limited to participants: the band members (minus original bassist David Alexander, who died in '75); manager Danny Fields; the Asheton brothers' sister Kathy; occasional sax sideman Steve Mackay; and late-period bassist Mike Watt. Ron Asheton passed in 2009 and appears via archival interviews. Blessedly, there are no rock critics, musicians or movie stars to expound in an overly fawning, sycophantic fashion about the group's importance to them, rock music, or the development of western civilization in general. The recent Beatles tour documentary "Eight Days a Week" was very nearly sunk by the inclusion of Whoopi Goldberg telling us how her mother bought her a ticket to the Shea Stadium show. Her memories and opinions are no more important (or even germane) than those of the other 60,000 people who were there that night. She's a celeb talking head who added nothing but her ego to the proceedings. Here, the laser focus is on telling a story through those who were part of the story, to the exclusion of third-party opinions (and you know what opinions are like - everybody has one...)
An immense amount of audio and visual material is packed into the hour-and-three-quarter running time, as attested to by acknowledgments in the end credits. That it never seems overstuffed, hyperactive or rushed is a tribute to Jarmusch's sense of pacing.
I went in with limited expectations of a run-of-the-mill rock bio, at best (the choice of film was made by my wife, who's a major Iggy fan). I came out more than impressed by a well-constructed, tightly focused exercise in documentary filmmaking that would have been outstanding no matter the subject.