The Right Way to Make a Hollywood Movie About the Punk Scene

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 9 2013 5:39 PM

The Right Way to Make a Hollywood Movie About the Punk Scene

Alan Rickman in CBGB


The trailer for Randall Miller’s long gestating film CBGB has finally appeared allowing punks, rock nerds and Alan Rickman fans everywhere to release a collective… sigh and shrug. That the production seems amateurish and shoestring isn’t necessarily a bad thing—after all this is the story of the scene that really first injected the DIY mantra into underground rock music. (The band Television literally built the stage at CBGB themselves to play their first shows.) What’s really disappointing is just how slight and bland the whole thing feels.

Before it was an upscale men’s fashion boutique, before it was a t-shirt design announcing vague affiliation with the idea of “alternative” music, CBGB’s was a tiny, unbelievably shitty dive of a music club on the intersection of Bowery and Bleecker in Manhattan’s East Village. And over the course of a few years in the late 70’s it birthed some of the most adventurous rock music ever to burst out of the sewage-strewn psyches of America’s youth. CBGB is the story of dropouts and junkies, young people living at the margin of society in a depressed and dangerous New York City, who let their anger, disaffection, paranoia and dark senses of humor boil over into an exciting new kind of rock music that spit in the face of everything around them.


These people were scary; they were heroin addicts and street kids. And from the trailer at least, CBGB appears to neuter the edge and energy that made the club legendary and instead peddle a kind of saccharine punk nostalgia that has more to do with the t-shirts than the place where Wayne County hospitalized “Handsome” Dick Manitoba by clubbing him with a mic stand. It looks like someone took Sid and Nancy and remade it as The Sandlot.

But there is a Hollywood story to tell here. In fact, the main shortcoming of the film may be that it fails to pay heed to Hollywood’s ruling axioms of brand exploitation. Why start with your punk rock Avengers? Come on, you have to build awareness and audience for your characters! They should have done at least two Taylor Hawkins-starring Iggy Pop movies and the Lou Reed origin story first. Punk rock is a perfect cultural artifact for blockbuster franchising.

Think about it: Captain America is David Byrne, Iron Man is Lou Reed, Hulk is Iggy Pop, Thor is Dee Dee Ramone, Black Widow is Patti Smith, Hawkeye is Tom Verlaine, Nick Fury is Hilly Kristal, and Loki, of course, is Sting. Te Dead Boys can be the Guardians of the Galaxy, since they’re both things most people have never heard of or engaged with.

Just imagine it!

Lou Reed returns to his extravagant NYC loft having defeated his greatest enemies, his bandmates, and pours himself a drink.
Mr. Reed. I need to talk to you.
Lou turns around to see HILLY KRYSTAL emerging from the shadows by his curtainless window.
Who are you? What are you doing here?
My name isn't important, Mr. Reed. I'm here to talk to you about the CBGB's Project. I'm assembling a team of young musicians to protect the world.
What do you need me for? 
To sit around near the back. And be surly.

Honestly, this stuff writes itself. Get on it, Hollywood.

Chris Wade is a producer for Slate Video and occasional contributor to Brow Beat. Follow him on Twitter.


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