I got a phone call last week from our writer O.G. asking me if I wanted to kick it and watch some movies. I needed to take a break from some work I’ve been doing on another site, where I had been constructing a guide to producing the “sexiest” Hotornot.com photos, so I encouraged him to come over. He had rented two films, one of which was the story of The Germs and punk rock icon Darby Crash entitled, “What We Do is Secret“. I had been wanting to see the film so I was really excited to finally get the opportunity to cross it off my list.
The film that I watched that day was both captivating and thought provoking. The story revolved around a group of rebellious young adults that were working to redefine and challenge social boundaries for the benefit of, not only their own, but of future generations as well. During the unstable political and social climate of the 70’s, their efforts produced a backlash and they were viewed as social terrorists who were corrupting the minds of the youth. They pushed forward, despite any dangers that they were creating for themselves. To tell the story, the filmmakers constructed the film in a truly unorthodox format by interspersing revealing, interview-style segments between the riveting dramatic sequences. The story continues to build with chaos, violence, and conflict until it ultimately concludes with inevitable death. Unfortunately, the movie that I am referring to is not “What We Do is Secret” but rather the 1971 pseudo-documentary “Punishment Park“. Not only is “Punishment Park” the other dvd that was rented that day, but it is also the film that we watched after realizing, only 15 minutes deep, that the “story of The Germs” was next to unwatchable.
Germs frontman, Darby Crash, is portrayed by actor Shane West. You may remember West from his March 2002 feature in Tiger Beat Magazine, in which the dreamy star was promoting “A Walk to Remember“, his romantic teen drama with Mandy Moore. The film begins with black and white footage of the actor speaking into the camera and explaining his (Crash’s) plans for infamy and stardom in coherent detail. Not only does he lack Darby’s poor complexion, overbite with chipped incisors, and the speech impediment accentuated by his busted up grill, but West’s demeanor and cadence are alarmingly off. By repeatedly watching random Youtube clips from the film and it’s trailer, I have noticed a few subtle attempts by the actor to try and work a bit of a lisp in to the role but, it comes through even less consistently than Madonna’s British accent. Basically, it feels like you’re watching exactly what you are watching; a precocious rich kid who is bragging with an over inflated sense of importance and accomplishment. West looks right into the camera with his coy Corey Haim smirk and maintains the same Blue Steel facial pose-down that I’ve seen him try and work for the paparazzi on the red carpet and while promoting this trash at festivals.
Believe it or not, from what I’ve witnessed, the trailer above is actually much more interesting and engaging than the film itself. Granted, my review is only based on the first portion of the film that I was willing to sit through, as well as the 4 or 5 extra scenes that I have viewed through Youtube, but I have serious doubt that the movie, it’s production, and quality of the performances magically increased in the scenes that i did not see. You may have noticed how terrible the wigs were that were used in the film, based on the structureless white rats nest from the header photo. The clothes were far too crisp and new and the acting rivaled a bad Aaron Spelling program. “What We Do is Secret” translated like a group of jocks and popular chicks collaborating with the drama department to perform a last minute skit/final project that would determine the fate of their highschool graduation.
Germs bass player, Lorna Doom, was as ecstatic as anyone about the overall result of the film. I wish that her approval was all that it took for this movie to be great but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Nothing against Doom, she seems like one of the nicest people that you could ever meet, but I’m not familiar with any other memorable projects that she’s been involved with in the last 30 years since The Germs disbanded. The recognition alone must feel vindicating but, even she has admitted to inconsistencies and embellishments by the filmmakers in her interviews. I heard her mention somewhere that she “wish (she) looked that good back then.”, in reference to the casting of Bijou Phillips (Hostel II, Havoc) to play her in the motion picture. I’m sure any woman would feel great about being portrayed in a movie by a much shapelier and popular professional model, especially at this stage of their life. She has to be stoked about receiving adulation and respect that she hasn’t felt for years and, for that, I’m glad that a film was made. My only wish is that it was made better.
The other two surviving original band members, Pat smear and Don Bolles, have also been strong supporters of the project since they were originally approached about it back in 1993. All of the members have played roles in the production of the film over the years and I feel that, although this could easily be viewed as a ringing endorsement, it actually may have worked to cloud their credibility and has created a conflict of interest. You might as well ask the director how he feels about his own film, if you’re going to inquire about the opinion of other people that have worked on the project. It took close to 15 years to finally make trash come to fruition and, for all those involved, it may have felt like a victory. To me, someone who simply popped it into the DVD player and was looking forward to something that was entertaining, it was a complete failure. Pat Smear has a distinct personality but Rick Gonzalez (Old School) plays him as a confused kid who is constantly in awe and full of innocence and wonder. It’s the same character that he played in “Roll Bounce” and every other film that I’ve seen him in. I’ve stood next to Pat Smear before, while the lanky guitarist was smoking and wearing a set of matching red Hanes sweats that were two sizes too small. He is a fairly specific personality and comes across really effeminate but, Gonzalez is very one-dimensional and doesn’t even try to shake his Paul Rodriguez-style Mexican accent. It’s hard for me to believe that any of the actors could watch the movie and think, “Woah! I really thought that was me up there for a minute!” It feels like much of the satisfactory ratings for them could be attributed to pure nostalgia and, in Smear’s case, probably a small dose of apathy.
The most shocking thing about the whole situation with “What We Do is Secret” is that it spawned a Germs “reunion” with Smear, Doom, and Bolles touring with actor Shane West as their front man. Both Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) and “Fat Mike” Burkett (NOFX) were openly and strongly opposed to the whole notion of the project. The Germs group felt as if it was a good idea apparently, and performed numerous club shows, as well as the 2006 and 2008 Warped Tours. West rolls around on the floor, pretends that he is Darby Crash and tries to act as much like the dead punk rock legend as he possibly can. It has got to really piss people off when he sings something like “Circle One” where he has to scream the lyrics, “I am Darby Crash“, but I’m starting to wonder how serious the rest of the band really is about it. When questioned about the decision to perform with Shane, in one intervew, Pat Smear said, “We kind of did it for just a laugh… for fun“. Don Bolles later interjects, “We couldn’t have replaced Darby with anything but perhaps, an actor….. he does an incredible job. That guy’s a pretty good actor I think“. What I think is that the band may just view it as a performance with an actor playing Darby Crash and, with the amount of people that it agitates with it’s absurdity, it may actually be the most “punk rock” option that they have right now to just piss on themselves. Bolles is again quoted in a NY Times article with saying, “Darby would totally appreciate a teen idol actor from ‘ER’ playing him“. If it’s true that they see it as a joke, it’s one that Shane West doesn’t appear to be in on. Word is that, for a while, he had even changed his name on his myspace account to “Shane Wreck“. He tries to look like Darby and his live performances are as contrived as his role in the movie, but it’s starting to sound like he was offered the role as frontman to be just that; contrived.
What I may have found the most insulting isn’t the horrible performances, Halloween dressup/playing rockstar vibe, or even the Hollywoodization of the storyline; it’s the pride that those involved have, the undeserved praise that has been bestowed upon them, ignorant statements that they have made, and the lies that they tell themselves and actually believe. It’s bad enough that some have referred to West’s performing as a “channeling” of Crash but, it’s even worse when the actors constantly pat themselves on the back like West has done repeatedly. This following quote is from MTV.com, “I was pretty much in character 100 percent of the time,” he continued. “Every day, when I drove to work, the Germs were always on the CD player over and over again. I woke up listening to [David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars], which was one of Darby Crash’s favorite albums. I breathed and slept it for two years.” My questions for this guy about his constant claims of becoming the character with every fabric of his being and living the same life are simple….”How?” He listened to their CD and some Bowie? I’ve done that too but, not while driving to work in my expensive ass hoopty that I bought with my huge salary as an actor. What exactly did he do? Shane West’s mom was a lawyer while Darby’s was an abusive drunken single mother. Crash‘s older brother died, his parents didn’t have a lovely marriage and stay together like West’s, and he didn’t start acting when he was fifteen. Did West become a suicidal self loathing homosexual with a drug problem? Did he put on a fur jockstrap and dive onto broken glass? Please, someone tell me that he at least hates himself! I dug deep into this hypocritical, guy-linered, douchebags myspace blog to pull out this gem for those of you who are still reading this. He starts the blog by saying, “A good friend of mine the other day summed up the “hipster” scene in one perfectly untouchable and indisputable sentence……..” He later writes “The statement was simple……..’a bunch of spoiled kids with silver spoons in their mouths trying to express angst through bad fashion’. Simply awesome.”
Bijou Phillips, who also stars as Sid Vicious’ love interest Nancy Spungen in the upcoming “Chelsea on the Rocks” is the classic priveleged Hollywood rich kid. She was a champion equestrienne as a child and her godfather was Andy Warhol. Her dad is “Papa John” Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas, which are one of the most over-rated and shitty, corporate fake-hippie bands of the 1960’s. They were the type of fools that tried to capitalize off of poorer and more talented San Francisco musicians like The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix by getting them to play The Monterey Pop Festival, but would stay in high class hotels with the rest of the corporate goons, while the other bands would stay in squalor and get paid shit. She comes from a lineage of mother fuckers that like to front. Her sister’s are Chynna Phillips (Wilson Phillips) and actress Mackenzie Phillips (One Day At A Time). The most punk rock thing Bijou probably ever did was when she became a model so that she didn’t have to go to boarding school. She subsequently became the youngest person to ever appear on the cover of Vogue at age 13. Over all, I kind of like her and she actually has a really great, sultry jazz voice, so she does have some talent. She definitely isn’t the worst actor in this film but, the fact that she is tight friends with the Hiltons and is some rich priveleged party girl, doesn’t sit well with me because, these actors have no idea what or who the fuck they are pretending to be. At least Mackenzie Phillips has a hardcore substance abuse problems, no doubt, due to the fact that she has two sisters that are considered substantially more attractive than she is.
This film is the epitome of what has all but destroyed the independent film festivals. There is an idea behind this film that people like and they will hold on to that idea whether the film is shit or not. In fact, they’ll hold on to that idea whether the idea is real or not. Everyone is going to try and use the same excuses that I heard when I trashed another Bijou Philips film, “Choke“, earlier this year. “The filmmaker is amazing simply because he made the film when no one else did and it was difficult to pull off.” I don’t care about that shit, this movie was bad. “They had a really limited budget and had to stop part way through the film. They couldn’t restart shooting until they could acquire more funds.” That excuse is bullshit too, because you are still doing the project a disservice by making it even though you know that you can’t pull it off. It’s actually disrespectful to the subjects, if anything, and, in the case of “What We Do is Secret“, they were working on a punk rock film so, how much money would it have cost to make shit look grimy instead of so pristine? This labor of love excuse is bullshit because the main cast was composed of working actors that could afford to make films like these in an attempt to pull some kind of industry street cred. They didn’t starve to get this film into a film festival because of their big dream. I’m sure the director tried hard, but fuck these kids and fuck the idea of reviewing films based on excuses. Shane West was actually in a terrible pop-punk band called, “Jonny Was” that he is taking a hiatus(?) from just so that he can pretend to be a dead rockstar that people actually cared about.
I was born the year that “G.I.” was released, so I’m not trying to play shit off like I’m super fucking old school or that I was at the Starwood reunion show, but I have a feeling that Shane West didn’t even go as far as to give himself a “Germs burn” for his “deep” and “heavily sacrificing” role. Plus, there are many other subjects that Hollywood can get together to take a collective shit on. I don’t really buy 100% into any scene and am well aware that there was a lot of intentional shock value involved with the “real” Germs, often to hide their questionable musicianship, and that sort of spectacle doesn’t often come without some level of pre-thought formulation. Sure, Darby was an intelligent guy, but that doesn’t mean the he wasn’t also a fucking wingnut. You can be both. When the guy fell down though, he really fell down. He wasn’t running around pretending that he was loaded on drugs, because he didn’t have to. His lyrics and what he represented revolved around a timeless and universal feeling of being disenfranchised and pissed off about it to the point where you’re ready to empower yourself. It’s a classic case of oppression and revolution. Some of us did not go to the prom and some of us liked to shoplift. Some of us didn’t have a “Super Sweet 16” with a $75,000 car that happened to have the wrong rims. My review isn’t simply based on the fact that they did a disservice to a subject that many hold dear but, rather about why it failed. The actors weren’t believable and they didn’t “channel” shit, but the reason is because, they didn’t have anything to channel and they just simply didn’t understand what they were dealing with. If you’re gonna play Darby Crash, you have to at least get the “crazy eye” down. From the real life interviews and footage of Crash that I’ve seen, he seemed shy towards the camera and looked away from it a lot. Although he was open about his intentions and his life, it was much more authentic and didn’t come across as someone gloating. I’m not planning to raise him over my head as a savior, the film already does that and in a very streamlined and flat way. “He has a 5-year plan. He starts a band to become a rockstar. He kills himself.” Sure, that kind of happened, but have you ever seriously attempted suicide? If you have, then you know that it’s complicated shit. You don’t just decide that you are going to off yourself because you decided to 5 years earlier. If anything, you’re giving yourself 5 years to get your shit together. A lot of horrible shit lined up at the same time which resulted in him deciding that the future wasn’t worth it.
His intentional overdose came the day before, and was overshadowed by, the death of John Lennon, so, I get it. It’s a story that deserves to be told, but anything worth telling is worth telling right. I know that I said the same thing about Choke, but this time, this was honestly the worst film that I’ve seen since Last Days. Isn’t it enought that Pat’s been in two of the most ground breaking musical acts ever and that they resulted in the death of his heroin shooting good friends/ frontmen? Was it really necessary to make a terrible film about each of them on top of it? This isn’t the only avenue for you to find out about this story. A new documentary is being released called Lexicon Devil that, hopefully, will be worth seeing or, you could read the biography of the same name. More people need to be watching documentaries and reading anyway. I think that I’ve written more than enough for a review based on only the first 15 minutes of a film but, for anyone that still believes that this movie deserves some sort of unjust praise, simply based on the fact that it took around 15 years to make and the various obstacles conquered, I have two words for you: Chinese Democracy.
For those of you who want to watch some actual Germs footage, I was able to go on youtube and locate the section of the 1981 punk documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization” that focuses on the band. (below)
And check out this interview with Flipside from 1977 (click here)