Iggy and the Stooges as seen in 'Gimme Danger'
Iggy and the Stooges as seen in Gimme Danger

Do you like rock music – especially the grungy, punky, minimalist kind that blossomed during the 1970s? Then hightail it this weekend to Gimme Danger, a fantastic rockumentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 4.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch (whose 1984 feature Stranger Than Paradise remains an independent filmmaking milestone), Gimme Danger recounts the raucous and outrageous tale of how singer Iggy Pop and the musical miscreants known collectively as The Stooges changed pop music history. Utterly engaging and thoroughly entertaining, Jarmusch’s film makes up what it lacks in contemporaneous footage with extensive access to all members of the group.

James Osterberg was an Ann Arbor, Michigan lad who transformed into Iggy Pop after serving as drummer and vocalist in his high school band The Iguanas. After arriving in Detroit in 1967, Iggy hooked up with Dave Alexander and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, together founding a quartet then known as The Psychedelic Stooges.

The band would soon shorten their name and go on to record three seminal albums that, while less than successful at the time, helped establish the template for much of what would happen in rock during the late ‘70s. As with their fellow outcasts The Velvet Underground, The Stooges would go on to wield immense influence despite never cracking the top 100 of the Billboard album charts.

Jarmusch makes the most of what little live Stooges footage exists, interspersing brief excerpts between interviews with Pop (who, as always, is avuncular, intelligent, and highly amusing) and his fellow band members (all of whom are now dead, with the exception of late-period axe wielder and future Silicon Valley electronics guru James Williamson).

If you’re a Stooges fan, this is essential viewing, but even those not terribly keen on raw power, stage diving, and general bad behavior may still get a visceral kick from it. No Fun? Au contraire!

An animated sequence from 'Tower'
An animated sequence from Tower

On August 1st 1966, the modern era of mass shootings began when a young engineering student and former Marine named Charles Whitman shot almost 50 people from the clock tower of the University of Texas’ Austin campus. The horrors of that long-ago day are recounted in the sneakily effective and emotionally powerful Tower, also opening at the Shattuck on Nov. 4.

Tower doesn’t spend a lot of time on Whitman (you’ll get a better idea of what motivated him by watching Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent if highly fictionalized 1968 take on the story, Targets), instead focusing on his victims and others who witnessed the shootings. It does so via a series of animated recreations based on witness testimony; these recreations — blended with archival footage —  feel awkward at first, but make increasing sense as the film continues and we’re introduced to the real people behind them.

A massive and well-deserved hit on the festival circuit (including, unsurprisingly, at SXSW), Tower packs an incredible punch as it briefly but cogently links Whitman’s slaughter with the ‘shooting events’ we have now come to experience on a near regular basis. Bring an extra hanky.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...