Thursday, March 16, 2017

Brendan Toller's "Danny Says"

Since the music I love became popular fodder for documentary films (gotta catch those folks before they shuffle off this mortal coil), it's seemed a no-brainer to me that Danny Fields deserved his own movie. Aesthete, sensation seeker, and scintillating raconteur, Fields was present at the creation of punk (book readers, refer to Please Kill Me and From the Velvets to the Voidoids): a fixture at Warhol's Factory and Max's Kansas City, he edited teen magazines, got the MC5 and Stooges signed to Elektra, managed the Ramones, and lived to tell about it all with impeccable grace and charm. If some people's beef with Jarmusch's Stooges movie was that it's basically one guy talking for an hour and a half, what Brendan Toller's documentary portrait of Fields, Danny Says, has going for it is a subject whom you could listen to without getting bored for even longer than that.

Toller's interviews are all conducted in the present day (with the exception of a bit swiped from the excellent MC5: A True Testimonial), but rather than showing us a talking head for an hour and 45 minutes, he avails himself of photos and ephemera from Fields' personal collection (much of which has been donated to Yale University) as well as using archival footage and animation (the signature device of so many recent docos) to provide visual interest.

Danny Says delves into some areas of Fields' life of which I was unaware (graduated from Penn State at 19 and spent a year at Harvard Law before landing in Greenwich Village; as editor of Datebook, he pubbed John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remarks that resulted in the Beatles receiving death threats while touring the American South), as well as all the well-known tales, presented here with Fields' distinctive panache. Interviews with Fields' familiars such as Iggy, Elektra founder Jac Holzman, Leee Black Childers, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Lenny Kaye (who offers a heartfelt homage) and a particularly perceptive Legs McNeil help flesh out the picture.

Fields understood intuitively, perhaps better than anyone else, rockaroll's appeal to oddballs and outcasts, and how it could unify them and bring them (us) a sense of community -- although he would probably shudder at the very notion. His story, like James D. Cooper's Lambert and Stamp of a couple of years ago, proves that the people behind the scenes can have stories as compelling as the performers. Highly recommended.


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