If I could go back in time and live in any other decade of my choosing, without question I’d live out my late teens and 20’s in the Seventies. Specifically, New York City in 1973: the era that saw the opening of one of the most important rock clubs the music industry has ever and will ever see: CBGB.
Located at 315 Bowery, CBGB helped kickstart the careers of the Ramones, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Dead Boys and countless other acts that were just as important to music at the time as the venue itself. The stars aligned for these belligerent punk up-and-comers and the shitty dive club they played in – a club that could have and probably should have failed. History was made. Important history. History that deserved a far greater retelling than the 2013 Randall Miller-directed film, CBGB, proffered. And that’s truly a buzzkill.
CBGB tracks the story of venue owner Hilly Kristal as he builds what eventually becomes the birthplace of underground rock ‘n’ roll and punk. Originally intending for country, bluegrass and blues to hit his stage, Kristal’s failure to plan (thankfully) takes him in a different musical direction all together, as he hires his friends, including a local neighborhood homeless junkie, to work at the club that was, for a long while, nearly bankrupt. Chaos becomes the norm for Kristal, and the film depicting it is just as messy…but not in a good way.
Despite having a pretty decent cast on paper– Alan Rickman portrays Kristal, the film’s best casting – the overreach for style becomes distracting. Comic book-like animations, hard stops and quick cuts make the film seem more scatterbrained than visual, and give the film a cartoony rather than cool feel. This becomes a huge problem for a film trying to recount the heyday of punk.
The rest of the cast is dead on arrival. Malin Akerman tries and fails to exude the brazen, boldness of Blondie (Debbie Harry); Johnny Galecki takes a break from his lame show for a lame performance as Television’s manager, Terry Ork; Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under alert!) gave a Community Theater performance as a homeless alley dude. Not even the better showings, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop or Rupert Grint as Dead Boys’ guitarist Cheetah Chrome, are engaging enough to matter. The whole attempt is half-assed and schlocky.
While I can’t say it was horrific enough to turn off, I can’t give it any sort of recommendation either. CBGB disgraces the legacy of this historic music mecha. In fact, it completely lacks authenticity. The film fails to translate a true punk spirit to its audience, probably because it neglected to capture it in the first place. I just hope that another filmmaker gets a chance to make the movie this place deserved.