The following review focuses on the portrayal of Hilly Kristal and CBGB. I will leave criticism of the aesthetics of the film and the film makers' skills to others with a less personal connection to the material. I knew they were going to get things wrong and I also knew they were going to have to change and compress some things in order to tell a coherent story in under two hours. There's a lot they got right and a lot they got wrong and there's a lot of good and bad in this movie. One thing I have mixed feelings about was the decision for artistic sake to use a lot of actual pieces of the original club as props. Since this movie is set in the early to mid-1970's, highlighting the beginning of CBGB and its early notoriety, many people who know anything about underground music will find a number of things out of place. For example, it's cool that they used the actual phone booth from the club as a prop in the film, but when Alan Rickman as Hilly in 1974 is seen standing next to it with a visible 1993 CBGB twentieth anniversary poster on the side, it can be distracting. There are tons of stickers and flyers for bands from later years visible throughout the movie and if you know your music, it can be a little distracting. It was also evident that someone involved in the set design of this film was a big fan of late 80's straight-edge as there are a disproportionate number of Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits stickers all over the interior. Most of the big name bands of the 70's CBGB scene are represented here. Some notable bands missing, but this is a movie and we can't expect them to fit everyone. If you blink, you'll miss the two seconds an actress playing Annie Golden of The Shirts is on screen. The music is all lip synced studio recordings of the original artists which is good because who wants to hear the actors doing covers? and bad because every live performance sounds too perfect. Most bands are given very little screen time as it is obvious the film makers are trying very hard to fit as many in as possible, but each one is well represented and there are little true to life touches, such as Johnny Ramone's temper and Patti Smith's eccentricities, that are actually pretty humorous. Good The Dead Boys are featured heavily in this film (more than any other band) and a lot of people who never heard of them before seeing this film are going to be turned on to them. Rupert Grint actually does a great job as Cheetah Chrome. The closest thing to a plot this film has, aside from Hilly opening the club, is Hilly's decision to manage the Dead Boys and get a record out. The film loosely follows this effort right up to the stabbing of Johnny Blitz. Bad (SPOILER!!) After the stabbing of Johnny Blitz, the film ends quickly after Lisa and Merv come up with some money for Hilly. This is completely anticlimactic and unnecessary. Since the film chose to close shortly after the stabbing, they missed the opportunity to end the film big, with the infamous Johnny Blitz benefits at CBGB. Good Not only is John Holmstrom's story told here in the origin of Punk magazine, but his actual art is used throughout the film in various scene changes. Holmstrom is a good guy and deserves to have his story told and I'm glad his art is getting exposure in this film. Bad Savannah Georgia does not look like NYC. Okay, that's just a quibble. I know it's a movie, but I just had to throw that in. Good A few people I don't like were left out of this story and they're probably very upset. Bad Unfortunately, because of the legal dispute over Hilly's estate, his ex-wife Karen and his son Dana, both of whom were there at the very beginning of CBGB are left out of this story. Hilly's daughter Lisa is the only family member shown working at the club with him. Good Hilly's chili, dog waste everywhere, carnality on stage, Hilly leaving money in his freezer, and countless other little details that brought memories flooding back. Bad not bad for the movie, but the scene where Hilly is chided for forgetting to pay the rent will, unfortunately, only reinforce the incorrect assumption that many still have to this day that CBGB closed because of unpaid rent. Allow me to step away from my review for a moment. For the record, that is not why we closed. Though the landlord did improperly sue us over unpaid rent, it was just a dirty tactic to get us out. The rent was always paid. The judge not only threw the lawsuit out, but reprimanded the landlord for being so underhanded. Our lease expired and the landlord did not renew. Back to the movie The best thing about this movie and what made me actually really like it was the way Hilly was portrayed. Not only did Alan Rickman do a great job of capturing Hilly's mannerism and personality... for all the faults those of us who nitpick will find in this film, at its heart it is a sweet tribute to a great man. Hilly could be difficult to understand (figuratively and literally) and could have completely irrational emotional responses to some things for no reason and no response to things that warranted reaction, but his heart was always in the right place and he made CBGB a home for so many of us and his employees were often an extension of his family. For everything this film got right and everything this film got wrong, this was the most important thing and they got it perfectly right.
Drama / Music
Drama / Music
A look at the New York City punk-rock scene and the venerable nightclub, CBGB.
April 8, 2020