Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rodger Grossman - "What We Do Is Secret"

'What We Do Is Secret' is a film screening in select major metropolitan cities, and will probably never make it to a local theater here (my semi-small Midwestern US city), and, chances are, it won't in your city, either. That said, it will be widely-distributed on DVD eventually, and it's certainly a 'must-see' for fans of influential band the Germs, or classic punk in general.

Starring Shane West (of TV's 'ER' fame) and Bijou Phillips, this is the story of the Germs and their rise (on the LA punk rock scene) and subsequent tragic fall. West does a fine job portraying the charismatic and well-driven vocalist Darby Crash, whose intelligent but ferocious stage presence made quite a noise back in the late 70's/early 80's - even resulting in the band getting themselves banned by most clubs in their day and, essentially, blacklisted by most of the record industry.

Surrounding himself with friends (talent was secondary, in true punk fashion) like Lorna Doom, Pat Smear (who now plays with the Foo Fighters and was a part-time member of Nirvana at one point), and Don Bolles (a veteran of many LA-area bands since, and I believe a radio personality now?), Crash's 'live fast, die young' outlook spawned a now-classic LP (since reissued on CD with loads of singles and live cuts) and some incendiary live gigs. At a time when the band encountered some trouble (Crash's increasing drug addiction was the chief culprit), he did the unthinkable and committed suicide by heroin overdose, at age 21. 'Rock and roll suicide', indeed.

'What We Do Is Secret' is a well-done look at the crash-and-burn punk group, and the director didn't neglect to get the 'approval' of the surviving band members during production. In fact, the band has even reformed with actor West as frontman, a move that apparently has irked longtime punk fans.

Anyway, that said, the film fails only as West's portrayal of Darby Crash makes him out to be kind of a prick. I didn't feel too much for Crash, and his death didn't move me (in the film). And, unfortunately, Darby Crash is the central focus of the film, as apparently he was the chief instigator and 'idea man' of the group, down to designing the infamous 'cigarette burn' logo for the group. Nonetheless, 'What We Do Is Secret' remains a great history lesson for those curious about this short-lived punk icon, and the music that helped to inspire a generation of post-punk bands (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Melvins, Hole, etc.).

Movie site (with link to trailer)

band site (to sample music)

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