(2007) dir. Rodger Grossman
The Germs may well have been one of the truly seminal punk bands of the LA scene in the late 1970’s, but their cinematic treatment that they receive in Rodger Grossman’s What We Do Is Secret wouldn’t necessarily convince you of that. It’s a cheap posuer of a film, failing to capture any sense of verity or meaning in one of the lamest attempts to portray the punk scene in film.
Darby Crash, singer and leader of The Germs crashed and burned in a definitively punk rock way, commiting suicide at age 22 by intentionally overdosing on heroin. Having had a rough youth and drugged-out nihilistic approach to life, he’s certainly worthwhile fodder for an interesting story. But Rodger Grossman doesn’t seem to be able to create anything of value. Using a style of faux documentary intermingled with dramatic segments, the film seems to want to get a few points across (like that Crash was actually really intelligent, that his sexuality was a complex mixed bag, that Penelope Spheeris’ documentary of the time, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) which seemed to capture the LA punk scene at its height, might have portrayed Crash as more of a drugged-out stooge than he really was), rather than capturing the true feeling of the time.
There are a lot of stories to be told about the punk scene, many bands who have interesting stories to tell. Documentaries, like We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (2005), End of the Century (2003), or Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007), have fared better than narrative reinactments, like Control (2007) or 24 Hour Party People (2002). The problem I had was the portrayal of the band was that they were all cheery and cool, even when Crash was smashing his face or cutting himself onstage. There isn’t a real danger, or at least the danger isn’t felt, though clearly it was very dangerous.
Basically, I thought this film was pretty lame. For my money, though I wasn’t there and it’s got its own quirks and drawbacks, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) is the film, capturing the real Germs, as well as X, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and Fear at the top of their game, in a time before commerical success was even a consideration for the bands that were punk, truly punk.