What We Do is Secret
What if someone made a movie about your high school? Maybe it was a movie about the class that graduated the year before you started school. But even if you didn’t know some of the characters, you are only one degree of separation away. What We Do is Secret, a film about the life and death of Germs frontman Darby Crash, was kind of like that for me. I almost feel like I should recuse myself because I am too close to it to really give it an unbiased review.
I can speak with some authority as to authenticity, and I have to say, they had it down. It is usually hard to watch this kind of movie without pointing out one anachronism after another. But the costume design and makeup were flawless. I’m sure they have their many advisors to thank for that, including style maven Helen Roessler (aka. Hellin Killer). The locations, the sets, everything was spot-on. I attended the screening with a group of friends who were punks back then, and who knew all of the “characters” personally. We were frequently cracking up while the rest of the theater was silent. When did Pat Smear get a New York accent? Why does Don Bolles act like Keanu Reeves? And the Black Flag scene – wow. I have to say, props to JP Manoux, the actor playing Rodney on the Roq. I knew it would be hard to get his squeaky voice down, but he nailed Rodney’s freaky cadence. Rodney often has a confused demeanor, like he has the vague notion that people are making fun of him, but he is not really sure. This guy nailed it.
The movie starts with the moment most people think of when they think of Darby Crash – with him whining from the stage, “Somebody get me a beer. I need a beeeyah.” I thought it was the worst case scenario realized – it was going to be two hours of a bad impersonation. But once the film moves into a flashback, they allow us to watch the story and the personalities develop. We are able to watch Shane West slowly inhabit the character of Darby Crash just as Darby Crash himself did. Slowly, we are drawn in and are able to suspend disbelief. Just like real life, the film is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. There is a scene at the end of the movie where Darby falls backwards, and they have me. I am totally in the moment, and if they were just able to hang on to that moment, they could have made me cry. But instead of a freeze frame, or a slow pan back, there is a quick edit to another scene. They lost me.
In general, I found the movie engrossing and entertaining. Sometimes I laughed with it and sometimes I laughed at it. Anyone who has any interest in punk rock will find it fascinating. But I would be very curious to see what someone unfamiliar with the Germs thinks of the movie. I am not sure whether or not it can be appreciated by a wider audience. I know that if I really, really liked Scrabble, a movie about Scrabble would hold me spellbound. I am too close to the subject matter to be sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be a really good movie about Scrabble.
Photo by Elise Thompson for LAist