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How Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop teamed up for The Stooges documentary Gimme Danger

US auteur tells why he has no interest in making films about dead musicians, and instead focused on a rock icon and friend who is still very much alive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 7:29pm

Throughout his career, Jim Jarmusch has been known for making mild-mannered, minimalist films. They mirror his character well: the 64-year-old filmmaker cuts a mellow figure in person.

But when the conversation touches on something he really dislikes, he bristles – and he has a few choices for the recent raft of documentaries seeking to explore the tumultuous personal lives of deceased musicians.

“I think it’s insulting, rude and uninteresting,” he says of Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.

“You take Kurt Cobain, whom I love, and you take things he did privately in high school, in his room, things he’s working on, and you’ve capitalised on it and exploited it, and trick his daughter [Francis Bean Cobain] to be executive producer so you could have access to that stuff? I’d say, f*** you, I don’t like that and I hate that kind of thing.”

Jarmusch doesn’t like Asif Kapadia’s film about Amy Winehouse, either. “I don’t like the film when it goes into her brother’s condition and psychological health,” he says. After a slight pause, he apologises for his outburst. “I’m sorry – I get very emotional about people going into other people’s private spots.”

Film review: Amy - Asif Kapadia’s heartbreaking portrait of Winehouse

The director is very reverential towards his subjects in his own rockumentaries. In Year of the Horse, Jarmusch captured rocker Neil Young reminiscing about his past and “the trail of destruction I’ve left behind”. But the film, which Jarmusch describes as “kind of a concert movie”, hardly provides proof about the Young’s youthful mayhem.

The same goes for Gimme Danger, his documentary about The Stooges, the proto-punk outfit who shook rock’n’roll’s foundations in the late 1960s and 1970s with their robust music and visceral performances. Their drug addictions, however, fed both their artistic prowess and the speed of the band’s first break-up in 1974, when the members were still in their early 20s.

“I’m not going to make a film in which we talk about Iggy’s internment in psychiatric hospitals, which were true,” says Jarmusch, referring to frontman Iggy Pop’s well-documented psychological meltdowns.

“But I just don’t think that’s necessary. We talked about how drugs had decimated them, when [drummer] Scott [Asheton] said, ‘I guess I realise the band’s over when I’m sleeping on the floor of some people’s house, and I had no money and I sold my drum set to get bus tickets home to my mom.’”

Godfather of punk Iggy Pop looks at his legacy on his new album

Gimme Danger does provide a platform for Iggy to reflect on the stifling, small-town circumstances from which he and his band emerged. Then again, Jarmusch himself described the documentary as a “love letter” to one of his lifelong heroes: the director could still recall listening to Stooges records at a friend’s basement, and hitchhiking to a concert when he was just 15.

As if in a scene from one of Jarmusch’s trademark deadpan comedies, the gig was cancelled.

Jarmusch says he became friends with Iggy in the 1990s, when he got to know the singer’s then Japanese wife Suchi Asano, and his one-time drummer Dougie Bowne. Connecting over tea and music, the pair has since collaborated on Dead Man (1995) and Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), in which Iggy has major roles.

Beyond being an ode to his buddy, Jarmusch says Gimme Danger shares a moral with Paterson, the film about a poetry-writing bus driver which premiered just a couple of days after the documentary did at Cannes Film Festival last year.

Film review: Paterson – Adam Driver plays a bus-driving poet in Jim Jarmusch’s sublime tale of everyday life

“Stylistically they’re totally different, but inside it’s not,” he says. “It’s about choosing how to live your life and having some need or gift to express yourself somehow as a human. Iggy himself is a great example: ‘Just do it, man!’

“Obviously not everyone can do that, with people who are impoverished, oppressed or in prison… but everyone has some choice about how they live and what they stand for,” says Jarmusch.

Gimme Danger opens on October 26

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