You know, after all these years, all the Hot Topic t-shirts mocked and full-scale Las Vegas replica rumors read, you wouldn’t think that the super-nostalgic desecration of 70s punk hotbed CBGBs could bum me out anymore. And it shouldn’t, really. I mean, the place barely existed at all while I’ve been a New Yorker, certainly not as any kind of meaningful cultural hangout in the present tense. It’s mainly a place I’ve read about in books. It might as well be Narnia. Which is why I was not prepared for how gross I felt after watching the trailer for the upcoming feature film based on the legend of the club, CBGB.
Let’s get you up to speed:
Woof, right? I guess it’s not the subject matter so much as the fact that biopics are just the fucking worst. What’s more pointless than acting out the lives of very famous people who are extensively documented on You Tube? Here’s the real Debbie Harry, you can watch her right now. Cameras existed at Ramones gigs. Talking Heads shows too. And it’s not like these movies tend to focus on the underreported, understated moments behind cultural history. They always go for the most famous, retold anecdote to dramatize until everything ends up as a weird, useless form of biographical karaoke. Worse than that, really, because it’ll make the shaky formative performances of great bands seem slick and immaculately pre-formed. It’ll further reduce art honed over time to one moronically on-the-nose moment of perfect inspiration.
(INT. BAR — NIGHT
Hilly clears off the bar after hours, inadvertently knocking a beer glass to the floor. It shatters. CHRIS STEIN, carrying out a guitar case, points out the broken pieces to DEBBIE HARRY. He shouts over the loud jukebox.
Debbie’s face brightens with inspiration.)
It’s all phony to the point of being insulting. Which, sure, we knew it would be going in, but faced with the moving images it just seems even lamer than we’d previously thought possible. It makes you long for that weird rumor that Elijah Wood was going to play Iggy Pop in an Iggy Pop movie. At least he’s a little weirdo! You wouldn’t have thought so, but all these semi-starving punks living in abject squalor had really great skin!
But hey, just for a goof, let’s be optimistic! On the rare occasion, in the hands of the right auteur, there’s a way to make these things borderline entertaining at the very least. Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People was a very enjoyable romp through Manchester post-punk, which smartly shifted focus away from Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays in favor of lesser-known scene-maker Tony Wilson. Similarly, CBGB follows club owner Hilly Kristal as its central figure and just shuffles in recognizable rock legends for their cameos and catch phrases. In the capable hands of the director who brought us the 1995 Sinbad classic Houseguest and several very notable episodes of Salute Your Shorts, a man who is actually Carla from Cheers‘ cousin and has thus probably met Danny DeVito more than once, we’re sure it’s all going to turn out great.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_klingman.