Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ain't No Mudd Club

Speaking of The Ramones, I just saw CBGB on cable. It opened and closed so quickly last year I didn't have a chance to catch it.  In fact, it was one of the biggest flops of the year, grossing only $40,000.  That is not a typo.  I guess that's what happens when you make a film about an era the mainstream audience doesn't care about, without any big names, that gets a thumbs down from critics.

The film isn't much, but it deserves a bit more respect.  It's about Hilly Kristal, founder of the great club CBGB.  He figured country was making a comeback--the name stood for Country, Blue Grass and Blues--so he opened up a cheap spot on the Bowery. But he was also looking for new bands that would play their own music (since you don't have to pay for those songs),, and was willing to give them a showcase.  CBGB became ground zero for the punk explosion, with groups such as Television, Blondie, Talking Head and The Ramones honing their craft and making their names.  It's very possible a lot of them wouldn't have made it without Kristal's support.

A pretty good story.  Okay, maybe the movie version, starring a game Alan Rickman as Kristal, fumbles it a bit, but it's still worth telling.  I admit it's strange to see the bands impersonated (though original recordings are used)--thus we get Malin Ackerman as Debbie Harry, Justin Bartha as Stiv Bators, Kyle Gallner as Lou Reed, Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop, Joel David Moore as Joey Ramone, Mickey Summer as Patti Smith, Jared Carter as David Byrne, Evan Alex Cole as Richard Hell and Keene McRae as Sting.  But I enjoyed it, even if it could have been more.

I remembering reading about CBGB years ago, so it was the first place I checked out on a trip to NY.  This was some time after the its heyday, of course, but it was the best I could manage. I was surprised at how cramped the place was, but that's how a lot of musical revolutions start.  Look at Sun Records, or Motown--surprisingly small as well.  It's as if they didn't know how big they'd get.

It was also quite a dirty place, and the bathroom--just like the movie has it--was not a place you'd want to stay in very long.

I suppose a documentary is a better place to start, but the film as least gives you an inkling of what an exciting era was about.  I'd like to say that someday someone will make a better film about this subject, but considering the gross, I think it'll be hard to get financing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was the other movie about the punk scene that cratered? Was it Times Square?

Rock and Roll High School did better but I guess that was as much about the dumb jokes (absolutely wonderful dumb jokes that is) and Riff Randle as much as the Ramones.

11:08 AM, July 17, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Two girls run away from a mental institution and forge a relationship on the streets of New York. They soon begin enjoying their punk-rock life until the powers that be start nosing around, looking for them, unsettling their already delicate mental states. Will the Sleez Sisters be torn apart? Or will they tear themselves apart?"

Times Square (1980)

11:17 AM, July 17, 2014  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Those movies, good or bad, were pretty much contemporaneous with the music, while this one is a look back, which gives it a very different feeling.

The creators of Times Square were hoping they had a Saturday Night Fever on their hands, except they made an absurd film, and it was about a type of music most Americans were fleeing from.

I love RNRHS, but that film isn't about punk so much as having a punk ethos because of the people who made it. If you want to see a better film on the subject than Times Square (not that Times Square isn't without a certain interest), you might want to check out Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains (1982).

11:27 AM, July 17, 2014  

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