There’s a very funny moment in “CBGB,” opening in select theaters on Oct. 11, where Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton are referred to as “fossils.” The real CBGB was founded in 1973, and by that time, neither Clapton nor any of the Zeppelin members had reached the age of 30. Clapton had been in the music business for a little over 10 years, while Zeppelin had been performing for about five or six.
It could have been an anachronistic error, or it could have reflected how the “under 21” crowd felt about the music of that era and how they were ready for something fresh and hip. The age of these two characters is never revealed, but in the ‘70s, New York had a drinking age of 19. And at that age, some kids might have the mentality to think that someone near 30 is a “fossil.”
Many may not know of the real New York-based CBGB, which ran from 1973 to 2006. It was originally meant for country, bluegrass, and blues genre music – hence the acronym. But it became something more; something that its owner, Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman), never expected. It became the starting point for many punk and new wave bands, including the Talking Heads; Blondie; The B-52’s; the Ramones; and a lot of others.
While it was a major attraction for this new style of music, the place was a dump. Proper maintenance and pest control never gets applied to it – leading to rat and cockroach infestations; rotted wooding; and leaks coming from the room above. Hilly has already gone through two bankruptcies, and he hopes that he can keep this place alive.
Rickman is outstanding as Hilly, who tells all prospective bands/singers that he is “walking out” if they play too loud. It’s a deadpan and hilarious performance. Listening to him tell the Ramones, “Nobody is going to like you guys, but I’ll have you back” is a riot.
A couple of other well known actors show up here, too, including “Harry Potter” veteran Rupert Grint and “Hangover” star Justin Bartha. Both are members of a band called The Dead Boys, whom Hilly would soon manage.
While “CBGB” boasts a great cast and a great soundtrack, the humor is sometimes juvenile and repeated quite often. Hilly has a dog that can’t control when it poops, and people consistently step in it. The dog also needs a bath, badly, and Hilly can’t seem to find the time to clean it – leading to the dog being covered in fleas.
The film starts in a basement, where it claims punk was founded by Legs McNeil (Peter Vack) and John Holmstrom (Josh Zuckerman), the originators of the magazine, Punk. Everyone should know that that is not true. A music genre can’t be formed from some magazine with the same name, and a magazine that covers punk music can’t be formed if there isn’t any punk music to be found.
But that leads to how the movie’s director, Randall Miller, decided to create the film – giving it a comic book feel. Every now and then, the camera pulls out, and we’re treated to an animated block where animals are given a voice and things go “ZOOM!” and “WHISH!” across the screen. It feels completely out of place.
“CBGB” is not a great movie; it’s barely even a good movie. But the soundtrack has quite the collection of great songs, and Rickman and a few others make it watchable. Purists of punk music and CBGB may think otherwise, and those who don’t know a thing about either may find some interest in researching the real venue some more. “CBGB” is not exactly the place to start for historical accuracy, but it is an entertaining ride.