Randall Miller’s “CBGB” is the story of Hilly Kristal’s iconic Bowery club, which became the hive for the nascent punk movement.
An antic opening scene that feels like an outtake from “Raising Arizona” shows baby Hilly climbing out of his crib and heading for the hills. His hysterical parents search for the independent tot. Parker Gant (Baby Hilly) or his parents deserve combat pay for the sequence.
By 1973, divorced Kristal had lost two bars to bankruptcy, but when he saw the run-down bar at Bleeker and Bowery, he had to try again. Soaking his mother for start up money, he dubbed the place CBGB for his favorite music – Country, Blue Grass, and Blues. But before he could book those acts, he found himself the Ark for the Punk scene. Looking for acts that performed original material (to save himself ASCAP fees) Krystal launched one Punk band after another. Inundated by fans, labels and press, he watched act after act sign to labels and break out big. Trying to get in the game he mortgaged his club to an attempt to manage the self -destructive “Dead Boys” and had to be bailed out by family and friends.
Alan Rickman fascinating inward performance as the laconic, slow talking Kristal is reason to see this film.
Cheetah Chrome of the ill-fated Dead Boys appears as himself.
With little to do but pose, various up and coming actors Lip-synch to the original hits. I had the impression I was watching Disney Audio-Animatronics Punk stars: Malin Åkerman as Debbie Harry, Stana Katic as Genya Ravan, Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome, Justin Bartha as Stiv Bators, Joel David Moore as Joey Ramone, Max Reinhardsen as Tom Verlaine, Keene McRae as Sting, Thompson Newkirk as Andy Summer, Joel David Moore as Joey Ramone, Steven Schub as DeeDee Ramone, Peter Vack as Johnny Ramone, Kyle Gallner as Lou Reed, Jared Carter as David Byrne, Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop, Caleb Broom Mc Cotter as Wayne County. Some pull it off better than others. Watching Mickey Sumner as Patti Smith, perform Springsteen’s “Because The NIght”, which she recorded after her CNGB days, was downright annoying.
Randall Miller, and co-screenwriter Jody Savin’s script tries to tell Krystal’s story, the fate of the club, and the rise of the club’s importance as the birthplace of punk. But there isn’t time to develop all of this. Cartoon panel interstitials, reminiscent of “Punk” Magazine try to glue the strands together
The actors playing Kristal’s friends, neighbors and relations fare better. Estelle Harris plays Hilly’s loyal mom Bertha, Ashley Greene plays daughter Lisa Kristal, who becomes the club’s compass. Freddy Rodriguez rivets as the drug addict, Idaho.
Donal Logue as long-suffering employee Merv Ferguson, Ryan Hurst as neighboring chess buddy, biker Mad Mountain, Michael Massee as Stan and Richard de Klerk as Taxi give uniformly good performances as the locals.
Ahna O’Reilly is great as the Oxford educated journalist (and now filmmaker) Mary Harron, the first reporter to interview The Sex Pistols, but doesn’t have enough to do. She’s seen in fervent conversations with Punk Magazine founding cartoonist John Holmstrom
(Josh Zuckerman). Peter Vack plays Punk Magazine mascot and ‘Resident Punk” Legs McNeil.