I have a history with CBGB in NY from my own days in the music biz. I’ve spent a lot of time in that club and was fortunate enough to see some legendary performances. CBGBs was the club to cut your teeth in for new bands as well as a place to pay homage for the seasoned veterans. It was one of those clubs that was a badge of honor both for playing the stage as well as seeing a band pour out a pint of blood during a performance on it.
Part historical film, part bio pic, part music video, CBGB is all of those things and more. Alan Rickman expertly plays Hilly Kristal who many consider the godfather of US punk having given the stage to play for bands such as The Talking Heads, Blondie, The Dead Boys, Television, Iggy Pop and many, many more. Over 50,000 bands played at the club during the course of its lifetime. Ironically the majority of the bands did not fit into the original musical vision of the owner given that the initials actually stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues.
The film plays out as a drama / bio pic of sorts centering mainly on Hilly and the birth of the club. Throughout the film, Hilly is constantly going broke, letting people into the club for free, bailing bands out of trouble and trying to stay afloat in general. His generous nature is one of the things the film touches on, especially during the end credits during The Talking Heads acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first thing the Heads do is thank Hilly Kristal, and then they thank him again.
The actors are great, especially Rickman who nails Hilly’s grumpy exterior which he balances out with an I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. If you’ve ever seen interview footage of Kristal, you’ll appreciate Rickman’s portrayal. Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters plays Iggy Pop and really does a great job, I have to admit I didn’t know he could act but he’s pretty good in this. Rupert Grint from Harry Potter fame shows up as Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome and does a fine job letting everyone know he’s more than just a wizard. Donal Logue, Malin Akerman, Freddy Rodriquez and Ashley Greene are all part of this talented lineup.
If you want to brush up on your punk history and discover the birthplace of The Ramones among many others, check out the entertaining CBGB.
reviewed by Sean McKnight