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Awesome: 7.69%
Worth A Look: 0%
Pretty Bad46.15%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 1 rating

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What We Do Is Secret
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by Jay Seaver

"...and may as well stay that way if you're not already a fan."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Music doesn't interest me nearly as much as movies do, and I grew up on the East Coast besides, so it's not exactly surprising that I'd never heard of short-lived (but apparently influential) Los Angeles punk band The Germs and their leader Darby Crash. So perhaps it's a bit of an indictment that, after seeing "What We Do Is Secret", I have no interest of hearing of them again. The fans seemed to enjoy it, though, so it's doing something right.

The Germs were a late-seventies band started by "Darby Crash" (Shane West) in high school. He started it with his friend George (Rick Gonzalez), who would take the stage name "Pat Smear". They advertised for bandmates, eventually meeting "Lorna Doom" (Bijou Phillips) and what would become a revolving door of drummers, notably including Don Bolles (Noah Segan). There's something there, but with Darby's charisma comes an incredible tendency toward self-destruction. There's the usual drugs, but also cutting himself on stage, inciting the audience to riot, and playing the band and the fans against each other. It's no wonder that at one point they're considered the hottest band in L.A. but have to book their gigs under a different name because no club will touch them.

There are, it seems, two basic rock and roll biopic templates; both of them involve a talented young musician whose emotional fragility is exacerbated by drugs, the only question being whether or not he beats the habit in the end. Fans know and the rest will quickly deduce that Crash is, as one might expect from the name he chose for himself, on the path of Icarus. There is something fascinating about seeing an otherwise intelligent, capable person seemingly committed to making things worse for himself and everyone around him, and this story certainly delivers plenty of downward-spiraling.

The question, then, is whether it's tragic in the manner of any life consumed by addiction and despair or whether it's a blow to more than his friends and loved ones, robbing the world of something great. The movie acts under the assumption that it's the second case, but I don't think that it ever makes its argument. If the music we hear strikes the viewer as discordant noise (as it did me), then it seems Crash has little to offer outside of half-baked philosophy and being a dick to those who care for him. Director Rodger Grossman never quite gets inside Crash's head to show us why he's doing this, opting instead to have the other characters tell us in faux interview segments (actors playing real people).

Maybe he's just too much of a fan to presume to tell us what Darby Crash was thinking. Making this film was a labor of love that took a decade of gestation, and it often plays like something made for other fans, hitting major events, dropping names, and presuming some level of familiarity. Even a life as short as this one requires some editing to fit in a movie, and Grossman opts to focus on Darby and the Germs as relatively small-time; their encounters with the movie business are downplalyed aside from Penelope Spheeris showing up to film them for The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization.

Grossman insisted on casting actors who could actually play their instruments (which, based on the self-deprecation in the film, put them ahead of the people they were playing at that time). In fact, Shane West's performance is apparently considered good enough that he wound up touring with the reunited Germs as their new frontman. He does a pretty good job in the role, as do most of the others. Noah Segan and Ashton Holmes are especially entertaining as the band's drummers; Segan plays Don Bolles, the irreverent wiseass with some talent, while Holmes plays Rob Henley, the fan who manages to work his way into Darby's good graces, band, and (likely) bed. The performance footage is energetic, as well, with modern bands playing groups in the late-70s punk scene.

Based on the reaction of the crowd, this movie will probably go over pretty well with fans; it seems to get a lot of details right, it was made in close collaboration with the surviving members of The Germs, and it seldom feels like Grossman had to settle for less than quality work. For the rest of us, it falls a bit short: A well-staged musician biography, but one which may presume a little too much.

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originally posted: 08/06/08 01:21:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/24/08 Wayne Carr Loved it!! DVD out Nov. 4th, can't wait!!! 5 stars
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  08-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 04-Nov-2008



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