What We Do Is Secret (Rodger Grossman)
Noisepop Film Festive, Roxy Theater, San Francisco
opens Starz FilmCenter Friday, September 12, 2008
“What We Do Is Secret” explores the life of Darby Crash, founder and front-man for the pioneering Los Angeles punk band the Germs who died of an apparently intentional drug overdose in late 1980. What We Do…, having been conceived some fourteen years ago, has been highly anticipated, and with heavy skepticism.
Starring as Crash, accredited actor Shane West (ER, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A Walk to Remember) is at the end of the critical barrel from jump street, having to appease a very sensitive and innately finicky Crash fan base not only as an actor, but as a musician, as he now performs live with the remaining Germs on the tour circuit.
In “What We Do…” writer/director Rodger Grossman cocoons the view from the beginning, re-enacting interviews with Crash and the other Germs, bassist Pat Smear (Nirvana, Fu Fighters), Lorna Doom (guitar) and Don Bolles (drums). The ‘band’ passes the oral baton, giving a retrospective history of the Germs before the film flashes back to the incendiary days when Crash first had the brainchild of forming a group.
Darby was a confident idealist to his core. What he said would be would be. He formed the Germs out of talentless friendships and created an iconic musical force. He speaks often of ‘the circle,’ which he vaguely describes as an allusion to life; that right now we’re in ‘circle one;’ and maybe one day we’ll be in ‘circle two.’
At one point in the film Crash leans in and burns Doom with his cigarette. She winces and he says, “That’s a Germs Circle.” He tells her that when she’s, “old… like 40” she’ll see people doing laundry or shopping and notice they have the Germs circle; and she’ll know they were part of it. Shortly after this scene, the little marker indicating the end of the reel flashes in the upper right of the screen. In the industry, this mark is called a ‘cigarette burn.’ Tightly glued to the screen, we are now in ‘circle two.’
The tale unfurls with comedy, brilliant timing, phenomenal acting, and above all, with historic accuracy. Grossman had the fortunate willingness of Smear to lend tireless input to the story, the input of Crash’s close friend Michelle Baer Ghaffari as co-writer, and the willingness of West to spend all of his time engrossed in the film, even as it fell to periodic suspensions in production due to financial shortcomings.
Himself a musician, West had an immediate sense of the subject matter and of his interest in the role. “It was kind of a no-brainer really. I was born in ‘78. My parents were twenty-two in a small punk rock scene in Louisiana.” West’s familiarity with punk was based in the British legends like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. He’s had interest in doing a punk biopic for some time, but he was unsure of his ability to affect a snotty British punk brogue. When the opportunity arose for West to lead “What We Do is Secret,” West seized it.
Portrayals of live Germs shows in the film feel very real, and for an added bonus, Bronx portray Black Flag, and rather than lip-syncing, they actually perform the song “Police Story.” And displaying his musical talent, West does a great deal of live musical performance in “What We Do…”
The post-screening Q & A session with West, Grossman and producer Todd Traina quickly validated the cinéma vérité of “What We Do…” A slurring, but remarkably articulate viewer charmed the audience and crew with his accolades, disappointed that he couldn’t complain, he told the crew, “I wanted to hate you guys.”
Penelope Houston of the legendary Frisco punk outfit the Avengers chimed in her compliments as well. “As a friend of Darby’s, I know that if he’s looking up or down, or left or right at this, he’s happy about what he sees.” As are we.
“What We Do Is Secret” has been opening in select cities/theaters across the country since early August, and this Friday, September 12, makes its way to Denver at the Starz FilmCenter. It will be released on DVD in the fall.