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13 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Punk stardom: nasty, brutish, and short

Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
2 September 2008

Last year there was an accomplished little film called Control by Anton Corbijn starring Samantha Morton, Sam Riley, Alexandra Maria Lara, et al., with beautiful black and white images of England evoking the short life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, an English rock group of the 80's. This is the same thing, only the singer and the group, "legendary" and "seminal" though they may be among followers of punk, are less remembered among music fans, and the extent of the legend hardly becomes clear in this version. The focus is a lead singer who runs a group called The Germs. The film-making, which mixes dramatized sequences with fake documentary interviews, seeks to evoke the LA punk scene of the late 70's and early 80's. The scene and the film are sloppier, the concert sequences are more violent and less musical, the characters are less defined, and the ending is sudden. Yet in the opinion of some fans, it's not violent or sloppy enough, and one can see their point.

The lead singer in question, played by the successful TV actor Shane West, is a professed Fascist, though anarchy seems more his style, who takes on the name Darby Crash. He has been expelled from a special high school whose teachers proclaim him ungovernable but brilliant. He gives other band members names like Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips) and Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez). Gonzales has wonderful cheekbones, but never seems like a punker. Darby tells a French interviewer that he has a five-year plan--indication of his ambition but also a hint that his days are intentionally numbered. He's giving himself that long to make it big; perhaps also that long to live? So it went, anyway. At some point he seems to have said to the band they'd be as big as the Beatles. Ironically, he offed himself the night John Lennon was shot. In a late sequence Darby's cohorts mourn Lennon as they watch reports on TV of his death, while the scene cuts back and forth to their lead singer, alone with a girl groupie pledged to go out with him, deliberately overdosing.

This movie may awaken nostalgia or longing in those who wish life were crazier than it is now. The LA punk scene was a time of true mayhem, which is conveyed here even if the styles and interactions don't always quite fit the period. The group is assembled haphazardly including two girls recruited on the basis that they should have no talent and not be able to play an instrument. The Germs began to play without knowledge of the rudiments of music or their axes and their energy grew out of the outrage of the audience, which itself seemed more in search of violence and anger than art from the stage. This was a time of "joke bands," set up with some gimmick, like a male lead singer wearing a dress, and wailing laments that were not taken seriously by the band. The Germs were more serious, insofar as their leader cut himself and bled in public. The aim was to risk everything, and The Germs got banned from one music venue after another. At one point they stage a comeback by changing their name to "GI," for "Germs Incognito." They have trouble finding a drummer and run through nine. The one who sticks is a guy from Arizona who calls himself Don Bolles (Noah Segan). Segan has a wide-eyed eagerness and energy that, faute de mieux, has to pass for Bolles' personality. A homosexual relationship seems to develop between a certain Robby Henley (Ashton Holmes), who hero-worships Darby, but maybe he just wants to be in the band. Later he replaces Bolles as drummer through a violent misunderstanding. A woman called Amber (Missy Doty) becomes manager, over someone else, by virtue of paying for Darby's and the others' drinks and drugs.

Briefly Penelope Spheeris becomes a character, shown working with a big movie camera on her film, The Decline of Western Civilization--a reminder that this is a scene that has been well documented. This is a fictionalized recreation, with documentary touches. In that respect more than Control it resembles Fulton and Pepe's 2005 Brothers of the Head, which cunningly presents multiple forms of fake footage for an invented Siamese twin punk band. But both of those deserve higher ratings than What We Do Is Secret, though some may value the raw crudity of the concert sequences here, rarely recreated with such ferocity.

The movie is less successful, indeed makes little effort, at showing how The Germs interacted with and influenced, or were influenced by, other punk bands of the time; and in detailing the personalities involved; or specific songs. Datelines indicate times and venues of main Germs concerts, and the making of an album is briefly sketched in. But concerts are represented by one partial, ill-defined song each. Contrast Control where some concerts get extended sequences, and songs come through to even an uninformed viewer. Here, the atmosphere outside of violent clashes between people, boasting by Darby, and the in-your-face nosh pit concert scenes, is not really that punk. The clothes and manners could be any beatnik hippie depressed young folk of the last fifty years, and the effort to define a moment through a key group and voice is a failure.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Jan Paul Beahm (September 26, 1958 – December 6, 1980)

6/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
25 May 2010

Who? Well quite, and that may well be the problem for any casual movie fan who happens to like musical bio-pictures. Jan Paul Beahm during his short run for fame was better known as Darby Crash, lead singer and founding member of Los Angeles punk band The Germs. Firmly picking up on the punk ethic for doing it yourself, Crash and his band made waves across L.A. for a short period of time. Much like The Sex Pistols back in the UK, The Germs were blighted by being unable to play venues as their reputation preceded them. With Crash growing ever more erratic as he tried to execute the various strands of his so called 5 year plan, those around him invariably suffered. Here director Rodger Grossman attempts to tell the "true" story of the life and death of an enigmatic young man on a "crash" course to oblivion.

With low production values and a choppy attempt at being a semi rockumentary, What We Do Is secret is really only of interest to fans of the band or those wishing to bone up on American punk rock circa 1976-1980. Even tho myself, an ageing old British punker, quite liked The Germs, this film only exists because of two major factors. For the facts are that outside of L.A. they were hardly known at the time. It's only because of Crash's subsequent suicide at a young age {on the day John Lennon was shot and killed} and guitarist Pat Smear's future involvement with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, that the band have had a reappraisal. With minimal input cut onto disc, one has to wonder if someone is trying to build up a legend that doesn't actually exist? What can be said with confidence is that the film at least brings the L.A. punk scene to notice. With all the historical talk about the New York punk scene that was born out of CBGB'S and Max's Kansas City, it often gets forgotten that L.A. had its moments too.

The cast here are pretty much the run of the mill performers one expects from such a production. Ranging from adequate (Shane West as Crash) to very decent (Rick Gonzalez of Coach Carter fame as Smear), Grossman's film will not be remembered for any great thesping. And since Crash is not very likable, or engaging on an intellectual level, the finale is unlikely to strike you with a sadness born out of the waste of a young life. However, the soundtrack crackles with punk vibrancy and emotive potency, and definitely some of the concert sequences have the look and feel of the original punk rock era. But ultimately the piece remains only worth an interest to an undemanding and small selection of music fans. Oh and 70s fashion guru's as well one thinks. 5.5/10

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

very mixed bag; watch it for the performances, and one or two things

6/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
2 December 2008

It's simply this: Shane West, as a singer and performer of Germs songs as Darby Crash in What We Do is Secret, works fine. In the 1/4 of the film where the filmmakers turned their attention to the on-stage performances for the film (or one-time album recording), West does very good work, so good in fact one may be tempted to revisit just those aggressive and loud and messy and amazingly crude songs when the film is broadcast on a loop on IFC (you know it will be). And yet, for all of West's feracity in the part as the singer, when he has to *act* as Darby Crash, it's at best halfway believable and at worst very stupid.

There is a resemblance, somewhere, between West- who previously appeared in such films as, yes, A Walk to Remember- and the grimy and death-by-junk singer who had a real intelligence and some crazy ideas. But at the same time West also looks and sounds and sometimes emotes just like what he is: a good but definite pretty boy. Darby Crash was many things, but a pretty boy assuredly not. And because the writing means to try its damndest to put a lot of the emotional weight on Crash, many moments (though not all) with West as Crash fall flat. Thankfully, by the third act, he isn't as irksome, and it almost turns into a halfway decent portrayal of such a true cult figure (cult in the literal sense perhaps).

And yet I can't put all blame on West, or even for the other competent-to-good-to-not-so-good supporting actors playing other members of the Germs. It's the first-time writer/director Rodger Grossman, who hasn't quite figured out at times how to be very confident with the camera, and at best is most daring (in somewhat predictable ways) during the musical sequences and perhaps one shot where a pool is reflected. The rest is a lot of rote work as far as the dramatic stuff goes - when it comes to the "iterviews" done with the people in the band, the groupies, the b-word "manager/girlfriend/mother" of Darby Crash, they fare much better. Indeed if Grossman had been more decisive with how to take the direction of the film (as a documentary done with actors filling in the parts and going through actual things they may or may not have said), it would have worked better either way as gritty bio-pic or bittersweet pseudo-documentary.

I probably sound harder on this movie than the actual vote/rating would say. Maybe it's because as a big fan of The Germs I was slightly more forgiving than other people may be. For the uninitiated it definitely gives a precisely strange and f***-ed up idea of who Crash was and how he drifted into heroin. And as well the uninitiated will find that it stinks. It's for die-hards only.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Great depiction

10/10
Author: tuxedowrath from United States
21 November 2008

This movie was great, both to inform people who care to learn, and people who are already interested in the subject and punks in general. I read a comment in here that said this movie was too "clean" and that punks were "scum and proud". If this is a reason to dislike this movie then you obviously are not seeing things how you're supposed to. The whole mind set of punks is being themselves and being individual because they feel that's what is right. In their minds they're not doing anything wrong; in their minds, they were the ones who were truly clean, where as the high and mighty assholes of society living their fake lives were the ones who were scum and proud. This film is through the viewpoint of the punks, to better relate to them. Keep that in mind when watching this film, it isn't like every other punk movie spat out by the media to show how outrageous and unethical punk is, whoring it like it's some kind of circus act, if you're looking for that in a punk movie, you're missing the point and should steer clear of this film.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

"I'm a lexicon devil with a battered brain"

10/10
Author: joshua-nash84 from Australia
2 November 2011

Rising out of the chaotic, drug fueled punk scene of Los Angeles the Germs while only active for from 1977 to 1980 became a band who transformed the face of punk rock. This film retells the rise and fall of this great band who's impact and influence is still felt today.

What We Do Is Secret starts out with Darby Crash being interviewed by a European journalist about his 5 year plan. This 5 year plan could either be one of pure cockiness or did Darby believe that his days were numbered? All we're told is that the plan was inspired by the David Bowie song "Five Years" Throughout the film we see the band fail to get club bookings due to the violent, anarchistic nature of their performances (even though Crash thought of himself as being a fascist), the descent in heroin addiction and a rather hilarious interview segment on Rodney Bingenheimers radio show. During the final 10 minutes of the film the Germs play their final show after which Darby is shown to be in a rather helpless state. Darby crosses path with Casey Cola and the two of them form a suicide a pact. Darby was found dead a day before the assassination of John Lennon.

Taking on the hard job of playing the punk icon Darby Crash is Shane West who is absolutely stellar in this role. Often at battle with himself (weak/strong, gentle/aggressive) West portrays crash as the intelligent and cocky young man full of self hatred in such a convincing manner. Following this film West went on to became the front man of the recently united Germs.

Bijou Phillips puts in one of her greatest efforts as Germs bassist Lorna Doom (even playing bass on the films soundtrack-with West providing vocals) Rick Gonzalez (Pat Smear) and Noah Segan (Don Bolles) put in equally effective performances. The gritty nasty underbelly of this scene is introduced to us by the cast of misfits, addicts and enablers who I'm thankful are behind the TV screen.

What I particularly liked about this film is that it didn't gloss over the fact that Darby Crash was a homosexual. The scene in which Darby is sitting in his bedroom, chest cut open wide with Rob Henley is a beautiful one. Throughout the film we see the nature of their relationship and Henley's desire to become the Germs drummer even though he doesn't have a single bit of musical talent. The punk scene of the 1970s was never one that accepted homosexuality so I found it fantastic that this important part of the story wasn't tossed aside.

The soundtrack to this film is wonderful and features the music of David Bowie (2 Ziggy Stardust era songs), Alice Cooper, X and Shane West, Bijou Phillips, Lucas Haas and Micheal Le Blanc recreating the music of the Germs. The Germs contributed to this soundtrack with new recordings of the classics with Shane West on vocals.

Darby Crash became a victim of his own creation.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Here is some of what happened, politely presented.

7/10
Author: goodellaa from Los Angeles
31 August 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Perhaps the be-all dramatization of this place and time is yet to be made, but this is worth seeing. The writer-director was engaged in this labor of love for so long there is hope that the research (first-hand) was thorough enough so that it is not based on rumors and wishful thinking. If it seems a little neat and well defined, we can partly blame the budget. This picture just barely got made. It will not flesh out your drug-addled memories of Sunset Boulevard and may not have any characters based on people you knew. Too bad. You probably just had to be there. If you want just a taste of what it must have been like, it is here, especially the performances (nice job, The Bronx). Given its limitations, it is pretty OK. Also you can let your kids watch it. Nothing too horrible, or at least nothing that isn't going on in every major city all the time. This movie will play well on DVD, improves on second viewing and tells basically how a particular time and place gave rise, very briefly, to THE GERMS. If the survivors aren't complaining, I'm sure not. I'm glad this movie got made. O save me from nostalgia.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Nietzsche the punk

8/10
Author: Michael-d-duncan from United States
13 June 2010

The ascension of The Germs was more of a local buzz of fans obsessed with seeing a self-fatal maniac cut himself on stage and snarl into a cheap mic. I used to be a huge Germs fan, not so much any longer, nevertheless, The film follows Darby's persistent nihilistic struggles as he moves forward with The Germs. I was terrified that this would be a simple boring chronicle with a fade to black at the end with a little blurb about what they're doing now. But I was confronted with a film that bridged an interesting gap between documentary and narrative film. The acting is suburb and the film is easy to watch and mostly accurate, which is surprising! Most 'punk' films are obsessed with a hard and fast sound track filled with the heavy hitting punk bands. This one however sticks mostly with Germs tunes, but fills the void with Bowie (one of Darby's favs) and some fear (they're playing at a club). The film-makers made excellent choices to keep the sound track in a supporting role and let Darby really take the lead, just as his did in the band.

Darby, for me, always summed up the punk world view, which is really angry nihilism (talk about irony)and I think this conflict is what he is ultimately struggling against, and also the reason that Punk as a 'movement' is self-defeating. Darby, as a character, is deep. And is artfully played. In the end, I suppose he would have made Nietzsche proud, Darby the anti-hero, the result of aspiring to the role of Übermensch. He found however, the bleak truth behind that famous graffiti, God is dead ~Nietzsche, Nietzsche is dead ~God.

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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Liked it a lot.

9/10
Author: Dee Bryan from United States
6 August 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Didn't really want to see this movie because I wasn't part of the punk scene in the 70s. Went with a friend who was really into it back in the day. Darby Crash had this 5 yr. plan that he was going to start a band (the Germs) and that he would be famous one day. Except no one in the band knew how to play any musical instruments. How ballsy was that?! They end up becoming famous for their music, the crazy things they do on stage (Darby cuts himself) and the rioting that used to happen in the audience.

Lot of drugs in the movie but in the end you see thats what led to Darby's suicide. My friend told me that the band go on to be a famous LA punk group.

The actor who played Darby (the lead singer who formed the band)really did a great job. At the beginning of the movie I didn't know if it was the "real" Darby talking about the past or the actor. Bijou Philips was great too. She was a guitar player who seemed to be the heart of the band.

Cool movie. One of those that your not sure about but walk out after seeing it and glad you did.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

I'm still waiting for an explanation of why this story needed to be told

4/10
Author: MBunge from Waterloo, Iowa
22 October 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A movie biography has two distinct challenges. It must be a well made film and it also has to make the audience understand what was significant or noteworthy about its subject. What We Do Is Secret succeeds at the former and fails at the latter, producing a motion picture that's as much an obscure curiosity as the characters it focuses on.

Set in the punk rock scene of late 1970s Los Angeles, this story is about the bold, tormented and ultimately used up Darby Crash (Shane West) and a band he led called The Germs. Darby formed the band as an expression of his contempt for the world and everything in it. He started it before he or any of his band mates could play their instruments, simultaneously lashing out at the expectations of the audience while mocking the band's own pretensions at significance. The movie follows the fairly predictable course of showing the bands ignoble beginnings, their rise to success and then the excesses that led them to destruction, but setting the tale within the subculture of late 70s punk rock gives it a slightly different sensibility. Inside that world, audacious and intemperate failure was prized more than triumph, self-abasement became a form of self-glorification and anti-social behavior became normality.

But while What We Do Is Secret recounts the history of Darby Crash and The Germs quite effectively and gives us a peek inside the musical/cultural community in which they rose and fell…it does absolutely nothing to explain why any of it matters. It provides virtually no context for what punk rock was railing against and no indication of what was meaningful about it's anger and resentment. So the film is constantly giving the viewer these long reenactments of supposedly important moments of Darby and his band, but they have no weight or depth to them. Unless you're already a full fledged fan of The Germs, you're left to wonder what's the point of it all.

That's especially problematic for a story about punk rock because both punks and their music are fairly unpleasant. In fact, being unpleasant was sort of the whole point. Punk rock was a musical and behavioral eruption against the pop songs and popular culture of its day. However, this film never lets you see or hear any of the world outside the punk ecosystem, robbing Darby and The Germs of the ability to shock and provoke they so desperately sought. Late 70s punks aren't that controversial or unsettling when seen and heard with early 21st century eyes and ears, largely because the most powerful and palatable aspects of the sound and lifestyle have been absorbed by broader society.

Shane West does a good job as Darby Crash, projecting a convincing intelligence and arrogance that masked self-loathing. The best part of the performance isn't how he portrays Darby's conflict over his own homosexuality. It's how he shows Darby becoming the prisoner of his own design. He launches himself like a rage-fueled missile against society but as his rage dissipates, as all rage does, he doesn't know how to change his trajectory. Eventually, Darby can't and doesn't want to live the life he's crafted for himself and he has no idea how to stop or change it. West channels that helplessness almost every time he's on screen.

The rest of the cast is okay, though they're given little to do except for a rather poorly defined struggle for control between the drummer for The Germs and Darby's not-really-gay boyfriend. There's a passel of name dropping from the 1970s LA music scene, with only the brief appearances of Joan Jett and Belinda Carlise registering for anyone who wasn't living in Los Angeles in at that time.

Darby Crash eventually committed suicide. His death was overlooked because he killed himself on the same night that John Lennon was murdered. What We Do Is Secret won't make anyone question the justice or appropriateness of that. It doesn't tell us anything about the man, his band or his time that needs to be remembered or mourned, particularly when compared to the tragic end of one of the greatest cultural figures of the second half of the 20th century. No matter how well you tell a story, if it ends with no one understanding why it had to be told, it can only be considered a failure.

Middle aged punk rockers who remember The Germs might get a kick out of this movie. There's no point it anyone else watching it.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Someone beat me to the "After School Special" metaphor!

1/10
Author: scarletminded from San Diego, CA
2 August 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie has about as much spirit as an After-School Special. It was like MTV made a "punk" movie that they thought younger viewers would like, as opposed to making this a real documentary about the Germs. It would have been great to have watched video and photos of the band, along with new interviews with Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, etc, since many people in this circle are still alive.

The acting is really bad, but I am not sure if that is the actors fault. Some people, like the Germs manager Nicole Panter, aren't even seen in this movie, it is like facts are picked and chosen and some thrown out altogether. I couldn't get the feel of the movie, it is like it wanted to be just a biopic with younger actors (to appeal to the kids!) but then also had a mock documentary within it that made no scene, where the actors talk about Darby Crash.

On top of this, I had to look up information about the Germs after the movie was done, because this film gave me next to no real information. It was all form and no substance. It tried to be funny a few times, trying to put subtitles under a guy who the band members couldn't understand, but it was easy to understand them, so maybe "the kids" nowadays laugh at this and it passes for entertainment for those young vapid souls that like The Hills and want to dress up like Hot Topic punks someday.

Plus, it made Darby Crash seem like an intellectual with a plan and a Nietzsche book (apparently the only book he ever read, if you watch the movie, that is the feeling I got). And he wrote very bad poetry that passes as something political and deep. The whole movie comes off vapid and pointless. I hoped more for it. By the end of the film, you really don't care why Darby Crash committed suicide, the movie never gives enough depth to it. It's like watching pretty colors for 90 minutes and nothing more.

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