Jim Jarmusch was the perfect man to make a film about his friend Iggy Pop and The Stooges, writes Helen Barlow
PUTTING a label on Jim Jarmusch and his films can prove difficult, even for the man himself. In fact, he hates being categorised, something he has struggled with since his hair started turning white in his teens and he donned those trademark dark sunglasses and clothes that make him look like the king of cool.
“I wore dark clothes because I was obsessed with Hamlet, Roy Orbison and Zorrm,” the 63-year old explains. “Then in my 20s when I made Stranger Than Paradise, my first film that got seen, it was in black and white. Someone wrote basically, ‘What a pretentious jackass’. But it was very good because it taught me, ‘F**k ‘em! They don’t know me.’ I don’t give a shit what anyone writes or thinks about me.”
He says his friend Iggy Pop, 69, is similar. The pair have been close since Pop, real name Jim Osterberg, appeared in Jarmusch’s 1995 film, Dead Man, alongside Johnny Depp.
“About eight years ago Iggy said, ‘They’re gonna start making films about me, about The Stooges and about my work. I know how much you love The Stooges so one day you might want to make a film about the band. I started pretty much the next day.”
The resulting documentary, Gimme Danger, premiered in Cannes last May, as did Jarmusch’s latest feature film, Paterson. The Stooges’ film is also part of the programme at the upcoming Cork Film Festival.
“Both of these films are about choosing your own path and on some level they celebrate that,” Jarmusch says.
He notes how they also take place in industrial settings and feature protagonists with working class ethics—the kinds of people he admires.
Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Jarmusch was not good at sport and was sometimes bullied at school. “I was very much an outsider, outside of the whole social thing.”
As a teenager his musical tastes were decidedly underground and his favourite band was The Stooges from nearby industrial Michigan.
“I was attracted to their anarchistic tendencies, to the primal grind of their music and to the animalistic behaviour of their frontman,” Jarmusch says of Pop, who started in the late 60s with the band, churning out songs such as ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘Gimme Danger’.
“I was living in a middle class suburban neighbourhood in Akron Ohio and we listened to a lot of soul music and Otis Redding stuff like that. But the bands that were the most important for me and my friends as teenagers were MC5, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground.
“All those bands were in a way revolutionary — MC5 very blatantly, politically, The Stooges very much in their attitude and embracing primitive stuff and noise and drone and The Velvets certainly were revolutionary in their music.
“I put The Stooges up there all my life. You know everything is subjective. I’m not saying this for the world to agree; it’s just a personal thing. For me The Stooges opened doors to the possibilities of many things. Their wildness alone was liberating.”
Jarmusch spent 20 hours interviewing Pop for the film and says he used the material as a kind of roadmap. Ultimately in what he calls “a love letter to The Stooges” he focused largely on the band, deciding not to speak to the likes of Pop’s friend and collaborator David Bowie or to mention their drug-drenched days in Berlin.
“I don’t like films about people/artists that really dig into the dirt and really private things,” Jarmusch notes in his deep, authoritative voice. “That’s for tabloid shit. I understand some people want that, but I’m not gonna give you that. Like Montage of Heck [Brett Morgen’s film about Kurt Cobain] I found that extremely offensive and exploitative.”
It’s not to say Gimme Danger doesn’t get personal. In fact Jarmusch discovered many things about his friend and it’s what makes the film most interesting.
“I didn’t know about Iggy’s great love for his parents; he never had any conflict with them, so that was very nice, an anti-cliché of a rock musician. I knew his parents lived in a trailer and he was made fun of at school.”
Pop is the first to admit the excesses of his life as a hellbent showman, including the lengthy heroin habit Bowie helped him get over. He has emerged as one of rock music’s true survivors and uses his brain as much as his brawn.
Still, baring his chest as always he looks fit as he nears 70, Jarmusch explains how Pop has been reading works by De Tocqueville, the 19th century French philosopher.
“Iggy’s always been like this. I think he’s a mutation physically and in his mind. He can remember everything from his childhood and teens. I can’t even remember from last week! And he’s beaten his brain with drugs.”
Certainly Pop is an original and he always wanted it that way.
“He sums up at the very end of the film and says, ‘I don’t want to be part of this or that. I’m not punk; I’m not alternative. I just want to be me’. And that’s how he’s always lived.”
Jarmusch says he’s also a very generous individual. “When he’s on stage he’s up there for you. He’s giving you something that’s ultimately very much about love in a way. He’s connecting you so you feel like you’re together with all the people.”
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