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“CBGB”- There’s Something There: A Film Review

Schuyler Watkins ’14, Associate Editor-in-Chief

Behind some of Punk Rock’s biggest names lie a man and a place that serve as their foundation. As told in film director, Randall Miller’s, new biopic “CBGB”, is the story of that man and that place that helped kick start the careers of bands such as The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Blondie, and The Police. Although an insightful portrayal of the irony behind CBGB and his founder, Hilly Kristal, the film may lack in “epicness” but still centers around the music we love but know little about.

Flirting with the fine line of fact and fiction, “CBGB”, takes us on tour of the mostly true story of Hilly Kristal and the underground scene of punk music and iconic club, CBGB. Hilly Kristal, played by Alan Rickman (most famous for his role as Snape in Harry Potter), shows the audience what can happen when one believes in others. Bankrupt after two failed attempts at managing start up clubs, Hilly tries one last time to create a space for the 1970’s New Yorkers to enjoy good music.
“CBGB” or Country, Blue Grass, and Blues, was exactly what he envisioned the club would play. Although a stage was built, and the name of his club literally translated into the genre he desired to hear, he found himself meeting with bands that had a different sound.

This film shows more of Hilly Kristal’s modesty, optimism, and overall good nature, than anything else. When you aren’t hearing Hilly’s repeat line of “There’s something there” with every band he encounters at CBGB, you listen to the purely lip-synched lyrics of some of punk’s greatest hits. Great to listen to, but disappointing when you wish to hear the original pipes of Malin Ackerman (Debbie Harry of Blondie), Mickey Sumner (Patti Smith) and Keene McRae (Sting).

Despite the lack of originality amongst the singing, the actual set of CBGB rocks true to its real life counterpart. Previously located in the heart of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, the film accurately depicts the flyer-covered walls, run down storefront, and minimal capacity CBGB provided to its occupants.

The film’s mediocre plot, B list cast, and false depictions may turn one off to the overall mystery of punk music and its origins, however the soundtrack may draw enough entertainment for someone fond of the genre and its ambiguity. Unfortunately for writer/director Randall Miller, it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll.

Overall rating: 3/5 stars.

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