November 17, 2008

What We Do is Secret


Reviewer: Walker Koppelman-Brown
Rating (out of 5): ***½

What We Do is Secret chronicles the story of the seminal Los Angeles punk rock band The Germs. With a style that combines traditional narrative with documentary qualities, the film delivers an intimate look inside the punk rock scene in the late seventies. Those without a deep knowledge of that world will find themselves illuminated, able to see the beauty in its darkness.

Founder and leading man of The Germs, the furious Darby Crash (played astonishingly well by ER's Shane West), is a truly fascinating character. The contrast that is made of Crash's bright and insightful nature with the community that surrounds him is marvelous. While his politics (self-prophetic fascist) might scare away the majority, it's his passion for the band that is so welcoming. It's there on that group level that the film works best, for the three other band members are equally as captivating as characters: Rick Gonzalez (Roll Bounce) as guitarist Pat Smear, Bijou Phillips (Hostel II) as bassist Lorna Doom and Noah Segan (Brick) as the one only Don Bolles, the band's troubled drummer. Lauren German (also of Hostel II) plays Belinda Carlisle, whom many folks probably don't realize was first with the Germs -- for about five seconds -- before leaving and eventually hooking up with a band called The Go-Gos.

I was a little worried about how the style of the film would affect my appreciation of the story. Whenever a non-documentary film is made about an historical musical event, re-enactment just feels disingenuous. With What We Do is Secret, however, the filmmakers managed to craft a style to avoid that. Overall, it feels more like a documentary than a narrative even though no archival footage or real interviews are used. Instead the actors, in character, will discuss the story with an off-camera interviewer as they would in a real documentary. This allows for a much more personal and emotional relationship with the band's members, and its short, sad, but lovely story.

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Posted by cphillips at November 17, 2008 12:33 PM

This is on my Top 10 for worst of '08. It's like a bad ABC Afterschool Special. Maybe it works as crypto-gay kitsch.

Posted by: SD at December 1, 2008 2:13 PM
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