Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What We Do Is Secret

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The "fake documentary" technique can be a useful way for a biopic to cut to the chase, or it can be a cheat. In What We Do Is Secret—Rodger Grossman's dramatization of the life and death of The Germs frontman Darby Crash—it's a little of both. Grossman tells the full Germs story, from Crash persuading his friend Pat Smear that he had a "five-year plan" for world domination to Crash overdosing on heroin the night before John Lennon was murdered. In case anyone misses the point, Grossman inserts scripted first-person interviews in which his characters tell the audience what The Germs were about. And in case we miss that, Grossman has the characters converse in the most pointed way possible, asking each other questions like "Is this what we wanted?" and making pronouncements like "The Germs are the most unpredictable, the most chaotic, the least-understood band in L.A."

And yet for all the explanation, the main problem with What We Do Is Secret is that Grossman fails to adequately convey why The Germs mattered so much. Shane West makes a convincing Darby Crash, especially when he launches into jittery, charismatic rants about fascism and youth culture, but like too many biopics about self-sabotaging musicians, What We Do Is Secret is far more concerned with Crash's fall than his rise. Granted, in The Germs' case, destructive chaos was a major part of the act. The band was barred from every major punk club in Los Angeles, because after a while, their fans would show up expecting to see Crash stumble around incoherently until a riot broke out. Still, amid the mayhem, The Germs managed to record an entire album and some singles that are still considered among the most significant products of the West Coast punk scene.

The context for The Germs' accomplishments is missing from What We Do Is Secret, as is any legitimate explanation for Crash's suicidal tendencies. The movie is exciting at times, moving at times, and watchable throughout, but fans of The Germs and L.A. punk may start to pine for what's missing around the time Michele Hicks shows up, playing documentarian Penelope Spheeris. What We Do Is Secret is fine for what it is, but can we get The Decline Of Western Civilization out on DVD now, please?