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Iggy & The Stooges: Creem Presents Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit [DVD]

Brian James

Iggy & the Stooges

Creem Presents Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit [DVD]

Label: Music Video Distributors
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It might have started with the Eagles, but the concept of the unlikely rock band reunion that manages to happen anyway has flowered way beyond what Don Henley and his cohorts could've ever predicted. Just in the last decade or so, we've seen, Roxy Music prove their heart was still beating, the Soft Boys soften up again, Camper Van Beethoven take the skinheads out for another ten frames, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant rock and roll again after a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time of crappy solo albums. Could the Stooges be next? Rumors had bubbled up before with Iggy even going so far as to confirm the reports, but it wasn't until his recent Skull Ring that anything solidified. That record wasn't a full-fledged reunion, featuring the dum-dum boys on some but not all the tracks, but still, it was something, and it whetted appetites nationwide for a tour. And that tour came to pass, giving the legions of fans that had never seen the band in its lifetime a chance to feel the magic for themselves.

The biggest problem with this tour (if you don't see the thing itself as a problem) was that it had far too few dates. Just like in the good old days, not that many people got to see the Stooges, although this time, there weren't as many good reasons for it. Perhaps no one but the Igster himself can say exactly why more cities weren't graced with the presence of this now-legendary band, but as a consolation prize, the powers-that-be have offered us a DVD of a show in Detroit called Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit, naturally enough. Since there is precious little footage of the band in its glory days and no documentary on the group has risen to glory, this video comes out of the gate with few competitors in its quest to be the must-own visual document for Stooges freaks. And yet the all-important question beckons: will this live up to the massive expectations or just be a default victory?

Musically, Live in Detroit gives little cause for complaint. Even held up to the unfair standards of music these men made over thirty years ago, the Stooges acquit themselves remarkably well. Ron Asheton's chops have improved even though that was never the point with this band, and today, like Steve Jones, he sounds like a metal guitarist playing punk, for better and worse. Scott Asheton, looking for all the world like Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, plays like his rudimentary chops have been frozen in amber for the past three decades (again, for better and worse), and bassist Mike Watt of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, filling in for the dead Dave Alexander, is never more nor less than fine. Of course, the main attraction is Iggy himself, and he is hell-bent on making sure that everyone in the house gets what he/she came to see. He yelps and screams like the intervening years never happened, giving a performance that, while not quite up to the watermark, comes close enough that all is forgiven long before the conclusion of the set. Since James Williamson was not invited, they play no songs from Raw Power, but considering that the production of that album since its remastering would make anything else sound tame by comparison, it's actually a decent idea for the band to stick to juicing up the songs from their shoddily produced debut and doing solid recreations from Fun House.

But while the sounds of this DVD are great, other things are not, starting with the cinematography, a feature so bad it seems inappropriate to grace it with such a word. It's too much to ask for every concert film to be The Last Waltz, but it doesn't seem that fussy to hope that a video of a band as monumental as the Stooges be treated with a bit more gravity and skill than you would get from cable access. Alas, such is not the case. Live quick-fades (nary a normal cut in the whole thing) among the four members of the band as if contractually obligated to give each man equal screen time and never gets close enough to any of them to really feel intimate. Iggy is as wild as any man half his age could ever hope to be, but the video switches from oddly distant shots of him humping a Marshall stack to Ron Asheton hunched over his guitar. God bless Ronnie, of course, but he's no more visually interesting than your friend's creepy older brother in the basement reading comics, and it would have been nice if the producers of this DVD would have realized that.

Not all the blame for the shortcomings belong with the folks behind the scenes of Live. Some of it should lay at the feet of the Stooges themselves. It's never fair to judge artists by their past work, but the Stooges' body of work did stand for something, and this concert, while reproducing it well enough in superficial terms, feels a bit hollow, too. The very feeling that drove the band's music -- some kind of loathing that was spread amorphously inwards and outwards -- is absent, replaced instead by a lovefest between Iggy and the crowd. He proclaims his love for them and for Detroit in between lyrics of dread and angst, and the disconnect between the sentiments never seems to bother anyone, least of all Iggy. The movie is fun and enjoyable, but is that what you really want out of the Stooges?

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In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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