Year 8, Day 4 - 1/4/16 - Movie #2,204
BEFORE: From yesterday's film about the "Godfather of Soul" to a film about someone called the "Godfather of Punk". Geez, it's almost like I planned it or something. Ahna O'Reilly carries over, she played a TV reporter last night, and plays a magazine reporter tonight.
THE PLOT: A look at the New York City punk-rock scene and the venerable nightclub, CBGB.
AFTER: I've lived in New York City since 1986, and I can tell you the first time (probably) I saw the famous nightclub CBGB. I was down on the Bowery looking for a stool for a (non-punk) music video, and the stores that sell restaurant equipment were all down there, a few blocks south of the club. My reaction was probably along the lines of "Huh, so that's where it is." I used to read the Village Voice back then (for the cartoons) and writers talked about the place like it was some kind of holy temple of music. But I was never into the punk scene, and honestly I was a little afraid to go there, so for me it became one of those places like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building that only tourists visited, and "true" New Yorkers avoided. The music groups I liked used to play at other clubs, like the Bottom Line, anyway.
But the directors I worked for were part of the music video and art-video scene, so they idolized artists like Lou Reed, David Byrne and some band called Television that was supposedly revolutionary, though I didn't know their music, and it was never played on the radio for some reason. I guess I knew who the Ramones were, but they never seemed that talented to me, but I guess since they came up from the underground scene they could only afford two chords, but I swore I'd give them a try if they ever learned a third one. (I only ever bought one Ramones CD, when they covered songs made famous by other people, who were real songwriters and didn't just say "Hey, Ho" over and over.)
There must be a word for the form of nostalgia one might feel that covers experiences you never had in the first place, right? I mean, the place was famous for launching thousands of bands in its 33-year history and still managing to clean the bathrooms at least twice. I get it, that vomit in the corner might have come out of someone famous, so it's probably best to leave it right where it is, for both legal and collectable reasons. But I digress.
The first few times I was aware of Hilly Kristal, I thought for sure that some writer had misspelled the name of Billy Crystal, and his editor failed to catch all three typos. But I kind of like him as a character in this film, because he wasn't so gung-ho to be doing what he was doing. Running a failing bar was just a job, one that he knew well, and he didn't know how to do anything else well. Even when CBGB's took off, he found out he was no good at running a successful club, so other people had to be brought in to do it - he'd rather spend his time managing failing bands and getting them out on the road so they could self-destruct in someone else's club, not his. Again, legal reasons.
Hilly had the right idea, but managed to be in the wrong place at the right time. CBGB stands for "country, blue grass and blues", and that's the type of music he wanted played in his club. He thought that country music was going to explode and he was correct, though he had the bad fortune to open his club about 800 miles away from Nashville. Instead he had to audition punk bands, and damn it all if that type of music didn't become popular too. How many people set out to do one kind of work and find themselves doing something else? It's fascinating - but I didn't understand why he was so excited to have a club in a bar in order to cut down on the noise complaints, and then told every band that if they played too loud, he wouldn't book them? This was quite unclear.
The main reason to watch this film, once it gets rolling, is the stunt casting - hey, isn't that the guy from "The Hangover" as a punk rocker? Isn't that the girl from "Watchmen" as Debbie Harry? That kid from "Harry Potter", that guy who was in "Dodgeball", and that guy from the Foo Fighters as Iggy Pop?
After further review, I've determined that both "Get on Up" and "CBGB" feature mostly lip-synching, which does seem to tarnish Chadwick Boseman's performance a little if he can talk like James Brown but not sing like him. But then again, who can? So the judges have reviewed the play, and the original rating stands. In the case of "CBGB", one wouldn't expect an early live performance of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" to sound EXACTLY like the record, especially when the record didn't even exist yet. But if what we hear in the film doesn't sound like the record, the audience might not know what song it was. And it would be a lot of extra work to record a different band playing "Roxanne" by the Police in a way that sounded enough like them to be recognizable, but different enough to sound like a raw, rough-around-the-edges band instead of a studio recording. Having a look-alike band lip-synch to the familiar track is the cheapest, easiest solution, but I still don't have to like it.
The comic-book style transitions were a little jarring, because in my mind, there's no connection between punk music (cool) and comics (geeky). I mean, both CAN be part of the underground scene, but to me they're not really part of the SAME underground scene. I can see comic-book panels used in a film like "American Splendor", but I didn't really get it here, until I realized they were referencing Punk magazine and other fanzines. Again, not my thing but I have to allow it.
Also starring Alan Rickman (last seen in "The Butler"), Donal Logue (last seen in "Disclosure"), Ashley Greene (last seen in "Shrink"), Freddy Rodriguez (last seen in "A Walk in the Clouds"), Johnny Galecki (last seen in "In Time"), Justin Bartha (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Estelle Harris (last seen in "The Odd Couple II"), Malin Akerman (last seen in "Rock of Ages"), Richard de Klerk, Rupert Grint (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Ryan Hurst, Stana Katic (last seen in "Quantum of Solace"), Kyle Gallner (last seen in "Red Eye"), Josh Zuckerman, with cameos from Taylor Hawkins, Joel David Moore (last seen in "Avatar"), Bradley Whitford (last seen in "Cobb"), Mickey Sumner (last seen in "Girl Most Likely").
RATING: 6 out of 10 glasses of Fresca