The new film about CBGB, appropriately titled CBGB, stars Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal, the man behind the famous punk club. Rickman, as always, does a great job. But of course the main focus of the film is the music.
We are treated to music by Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground and Dead Boys. And Alan Rickman at one point performs a song that Hilly Kristal wrote, which is cool. (Hilly’s version plays during the closing credits, which is also a nice treat.) It must have been something to have been in that place at that time, to experience Talking Heads or Blondie in such a cool and intimate venue, and the film gives us a taste of that excitement. Though if the bathroom was even half as disgusting as depicted in the film, I'm glad I missed that bit of it.
At the beginning a title card tells us that this story is mostly true. It's up to us to know (or guess) which parts aren't, I suppose. Though at the end we are assured all the stuff about the dog was true (there's a bit too much about the dog's defecating issues, I think). I hope the stuff about Hilly running off as an infant is true.
The film splits its time between the club and the creators of Punk magazine, and in that way is a bit disjointed. The stuff about the magazine really doesn’t go anywhere. There is a lot about creating the first issue, and them interviewing Lou Reed. But then time seems to pass, and yet they’re still talking about working on the first issue. So it’s difficult to get a sense of how much time passes during the film. Plus, these guys never really interact with Hilly, so their story in a way remains separate. The sections of the film focused on the club are much more interesting and effective. Also interesting is Hilly's relations with other people in that neighborhood.
The film uses a comic book style, often putting the action into the frame of a comic book, and splashing words across the screen to indicate sounds. This, of course, seems more related to the magazine, as the creator John Holmstrom (Josh Zuckerman) was also the illustrator, and is seen drawing several times throughout the film. I don’t necessarily associate punk with comic book art, but that might just be me.
By the way, though we see Iggy Pop in the film, the end credits do include a note about how the filmmakers know that he never played at CBGB – “deal with it.” Also during the closing credits we see the actual footage of Talking Heads thanking Hilly during their 2002 induction to the rock and roll hall of fame. CBGB closed in 2006. Hilly died in 2007. CBGB was directed by Randall Miller, who also directed Bottle Shock and Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School.
One other note: I will be reviewing the film's soundtrack soon on this blog.