This hasn't been the best year for four letter, all-caps titles. Back in July, we brought you some of the choicest pans of Universal's "R.I.P.D.," a miss-mash of comic book stylings and Academy-Award-winning actors playing characters with names like Roysiphus Pulsifer. Just last week, the New York Times ran a harsh review of the Adam Scott-starring "A.C.O. D." (Manohla Dargis raves, "The words just kept coming, and so did the perfunctory rest of it!") While neither the film, nor the iconic New York venue which lends it its title, uses any periods to separate out its acronym components, "CBGB" seems to have been bitten by the same radioactive bad review bug.
It's interesting to note how many write-ups invoke or acknowledge some form of "You had to be there" when describing the ways that this film falls short in capturing the vitality of the place that became a proving ground for legendary groups and singers. Other critics point out the film's problems with establishing the proper timeline for individual acts' careers. (Note to self: Never shuffle the stages of Patti Smith's career. Many people will notice.) Some point to the casting of Alan Rickman as CBGB impresario Hilly Krystal, a role objectively meant for someone a few decades his junior. The rest of the ensemble is filled with recognizable faces playing even more recognizable faces, a recipe that rarely proves fruitful.
Whatever the reason, if the film's goal was to recreate the spirit of what made the club a cultural landmark, these reviews indicate that the mark may have been missed. At least the soundtrack is good...?
Here are ten great lines from ten Roysiphean reviews of "CBGB":
"As Ferguson points out, shrugging, in a moment of clarity that comes close to breaking the fourth wall: 'Hey, art sucks.'"
"The inside of CBGB looks convincing enough...The outside is in Savannah and features rats, bums lighting fires in trash cans, cops with 'dese and dose' accents and those sky-blue uniform shirts, and other pseudo-authentic bits of flair. I think that sums it up."
"I never had the chance to attend New York City’s CBGB, 'the birthplace of punk,' but if my first exposure to it were the film of the same name, I’m not sure I would want to."
"Another irritant: cutesy name-tag graphics like 'Tom Verlaine,' used to identify the actors playing dress-up. This era was not about helping out the audience. Punk didn’t give a flying unprintable noun what you did or did not get."
"Though clearly shot on a limited budget, CBGB seems to have spared no expense in the fake-dogshit department, repeatedly showing frustrated employees and visitors stepping in the stuff to the accompaniment of loud squishing noises."
"It takes a lot of effort to take the underdog stomping grounds of New York's top punk acts and turn them into the Central Perk from 'Friends'—albeit with slightly more stain—but 'CBGB' does it with total conviction."
"Quick, what’s the ideal song for a movie about CBGB to play over its opening credits? Anyone whose answer is 'Life During Wartime,' the Talking Heads classic that actually mentions CBGB right in the lyrics, congratulations—you’re unimaginative enough to have made this thuddingly banal portrait of Hilly Kristal."
"Each band is introduced as if it’s a blackguard Christ headed for Jerusalem, with the camera pushing in on Rickman’s 'show me what you got' mug for the reveal that, lo, 'Psycho Killer' was about to change the world."
Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger:
"This thing is as inauthentic and artificial as they come, the absolute antithesis to the pioneering punk spirit it sets out to portray."
"If you really want to remember those times? Get out "Horses." Or "Talking Heads: 77." Or "Blank Generation." Preferably on vinyl, with all the pops and scratches. And play them. Loud."