CBGB is as important of a club in terms of rock history as they come. So, the fact that a movie has been made of one of the most influential facilities in modern music history should be seen as equally as important. To a younger generation, CBGB is not much more than a name on a retro T-shirt. Having a movie telling the story is an opportunity to impart the historical importance to the music lovers of today of a certain age.
We’re not sure that the movie previewed in the CBGB trailer will accomplish that feat. It never quite establishes the importance club owner Hilly Kristal played in the history of rock and roll until a real-life clip from the Talking Heads' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is shown at the end of the movie. The band brought Kristal up on stage and lauded him for making them, and everyone else he gave a forum to, what they would became.
Alan Rickman is Kristal and we meet him in the film’s opening moments getting liberated from extreme debts from his second failed club. He is a man with a vision, yet no forum to make it happen. Fate finds him in the Bowery district of New York and a little hole in the wall club will be his dream… CBGB.
What does that stand for, you ask? Why, it's country, bluegrass and blues. Those musical styles would in fact never become what the institution would become known for!
Indications of the first potential of CBGB is seen when a band manager (played by Johnny Galecki) presents Kristal with a group called Television. Within days, they would become the toast of Manhattan, and everyone who is anyone clamors for a spot in the club that only holds 300 people.
There’s a slew of characters that come and go in the story including Ashley Greene as Kristal’s daughter, Lisa. It would be Lisa’s forward thinking that would play as much of a part of CBGB’s success as Hilly’s ear for “there’s something there.”
Just an example of the bands and musicians that would use CBGB’s stage as a launching pad include Blondie (Malin Akerman is astounding as Debbie Harry), Iggy Pop, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Patti Smith and the Police. See, CBGB’s role in rock history is profound.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get that feeling other than through a smattering of musical interludes where bands such as the Talking Heads audition for Kristal playing what is clearly the studio track instead of playing live. We understand why they used studio tracks, but it would have carried more weight to have the actors really sing. Nobody, particularly bands just staring out -- and especially punk and new wave bands -- would sound as crisp and clear as is presented in CBGB.
Our CBGB review finds that the film is entertaining and does a decent job of putting the club’s role in music history in place. But, there was an opportunity there that is slightly missed. There is an entire movement of modern music that is not quite given the due it deserves.