As soon as everyone heard there was going to be a movie about NYC’s punk breeding ground, CBGB, older punks started shaking their heads saying that the filmmakers weren’t going to get it right. As someone who wasn’t in New York in the mid-70s, I can’t say whether or not they got it “right” but I have seen lots of documentaries about the scene and I’ve read the required text Please Kill Me by Legs MacNeil and Gillian MacCain. When I first moved to NYC, I was even able to go to CBGB a few times before its unfortunate closing in 2006.
Fans will be really excited (or really trepidatious) to see depictions of legendary musical and cultural icons, but they come across as caricatures flitting on and off the screen like it’s a punk Halloween party. When some of the bands take the stage, it might remind you of when the “band” at Chuck E. Cheese “performs.”
And I’d like to know why they made Lou Reed look like Bobby Hill? However, it was a special treat to see Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in Harry Potter) sporting a dog collar and scowling over his guitar as Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys.
If this was only the great Alan Rickman (playing the fiscally and fecally irresponsible CBGB owner Hilly Kristal) slumping and walking his dog around the East Village set to a 70s punk soundtrack, it would have been an awesome film. It sometimes reminded me of American Splendor (which I love) because in each the protagonists are depressed middle-aged slackers who somehow become major players in underground scenes. It’s nice to see some attention being directed at Kristal, the man you could say is the great uncle of punk in NYC.
Altogether, the film seems a bit hollow and unconvincing, on the level of an after school special. Maybe it’s because it was shot in Savannah, Georgia and you just know there is a palm tree lurking off screen. And yet, even if this isn’t the best movie, anyone with a bit of nostalgia or curiosity about the early New York punk scene will want to see it.
— Rebecca DeRosa
CBGB, directed by Randall Mills, will be released in October 2013 by Unclaimed Freight Productions.