What We Do Is Secret
Rated R, 92 min. Directed by Rodger Grossman. Starring Shane West, Bijou Philips, Rick Gonzalez, Noah Segan, Ashton Holmes.
He may have come into this old world a puzzled panther waiting to be caged, evolution a process too slow to save his soul (or his life), but Darby Crash (né Jan Paul Beahm), the mad genius-cum-L.A. punk rock junkie godhead exited in grotty, smacked-up anti-style, injecting his collapsed veins with a final, deadly dose on Dec. 7, 1980, just days after playing a final, triumphant gig with his raison d'être: the Germs. Rock & roll suicide or no, fate had other plans and bitch-slapped the fiercely poetic 22-year-old into instant obscurity by offing John Lennon the day after Crash, thereby relegating the Nietzche-spouting howler to an also-ran obit that no one outside of the tight-knit L.A. punk rock community bothered to notice. Such is the stuff of great drama, and this forever-gestating (20 years, give or take) Crash/Germs biopic has been whispered about nearly as long as Crash's life span. It's just another sad (but totally apropos) case of poetic injustice then that What We Do Is Secret plays like a dope-addled, Slash Records TV Movie of the Week for the aging hardcore set, who will doubtless gnash their remaining teeth in frustration and go back to listening to the band's corrosively brilliant (and sole) studio LP, (GI), while watching Penelope Spheeris' "you are there" superdoc The Decline of Western Civilization for the umpteenth time. (The Decline has achieved genuine legendary cred over the decades and rightly so; its raw footage of Crash and company tailspinning into street-punk history is flat-out riveting nearly three decades on.) Grossman structures his film around Crash's cunningly bass-ackward "five-year plan" for punk rock infamy – recruit band members who aren't actually musicians, book gigs, play gigs, incite riots, fan the hype, and only then learn to play the instruments – and delves deep into the Germs' personal history. It's littered with kicky scenester tidbits. Then-Runaway Joan Jett, who produced (GI), appears in both real and reel cameos, marginally less legendary San Franciso freak show, the Screamers, crop up, and Sebastian Roché manages a hilariously accurate turn as Slash magazine's punk-situationist pundit Claude "Kickboy Face" Bessy. But that's all germicidal icing on Crash's funereal cake, really. The one aspect of the film that feels altogether genuine (if not genuinely altogether) is West's (E.R.'s Dr. Ray Barnett) remarkable Darby Crash, bad teeth, sozzled romanticism, junkie philosophizing, and all. West utterly nails the singer's tortured, manipulative ennui, and the re-creations of the Germs' combustible live performances are feral, chaotic, and wholly accurate, a fact this reviewer can attest to as well. I caught the real, reconstituted Germs, with West out in front, almost two years back in Reno, and they burned a hole in my mind that's still scarring over. West, just like Crash, sounded like he was singing through a mouthful of other people's teeth and a bifurcated tongue, and former Nirvana guitarist and Crash's best friend, Pat Smear (played here by an appropriately giddy Gonzalez), surely employed some sort of time machine for the reunion shows. But that was now and this is then, and despite its thorough attention to historical detail and the obvious love of all involved for their shattered subject, What We Do Is Secret is, in the end, awfully sterile for a movie about the Germs.
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