×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB

Despite a strong sense of the oxymoronic, doc has a lot of great music and spirit.

Despite a strong sense of the oxymoronic — how can you argue for preserving a place that represented spontaneity, revolution and change? — “Burning Down the House” has a lot of great music and spirit. Mandy Stein’s docu is an entertaining flashback to the Manhattan phenomenon known as CBGB, the incubator of ’70s punk and New Wave, a hellhole of filth and broken toilets, and as much a fixture of the Bowery as alcoholism. Festival success seems assured, as does some kind of arthouse run and broadcast.

Like most good stories, “Burning Down the House” (from the song by Talking Heads, one of the many acts CBGB gave New York) has a good guy and a bad guy. (Or, if you count real-estate developers, bad guys.) The good guy is Hilly Kristal, onetime folk singer and, for well over three decades, the owner of the resilient CBGB, which stood for “country, bluegrass, blues.” (The club’s subtitle, OMFUG, signified “other music for uplifting gourmands”). The problem was that Kristal didn’t own the building and got in a rent dispute with the landlord, the Bowery Residence Committee and its intractable head, Muzzy Rosenblatt (who declined to speak to helmer Stein). Thus began the death knell for a New York landmark.

But was it a landmark? The battle for official historic recognition of a place renowned for its despicable aesthetics is one of the pic’s more entertaining aspects, as is a plotline about keeping a place alive that had already survived heavy metal and Rudy Giuliani. Stein — whose father, Seymour, owned Sire Records and whose mother, Linda, managed the Ramones — has a nice sense of the ironic, juxtaposing the old Bowery with the new (seeing the facade of the yuppified Bowery Wine Co. elicits a laugh).

But perhaps the director’s best gesture is her recurring use of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and author Luc Sante (“Low Life”), who explore the gutted but still graffiti-tattooed innards of the old club like spelunkers looking for guano deposits. They examine the walls for names, dates and maybe any musical residue that might still be hanging in the damaged plaster. It’s a wonderful device that foreshadows what’s going to happen, despite the outcry, the campaigns and the outrage.

The history of New York is about change, and forsaking the past: Architect Stanford White’s masterpiece, the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, was built in 1906 and torn down in 1916. CBGB lasted three times as long and, thanks to Stein, lives on in a fashion.

Production values are adequate, much of the archival footage probably having been shot by the deluded and intoxicated.

Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB

Production: A Plain Jane Prods. presentation of an Ellsworth production, in association with Cactus Three. (International sales: Cactus Three, New York.) Produced by Mandy Stein, Ernie Fritz. Executive producers, Julie Goldman, Krysanne Katsoolis, Caroline Stevens. Directed by Mandy Stein.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD, DV), Benjamen Logan; editor, Melody London; music supervisor, Jesse Malin; sound, Bob Bryan, Teferra McKenzie, Mark Maloof. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 25, 2009. Running time: 90 MIN. With Hilly Kristal, Deborah Harry, Patti Smith, Sting, Richard Hell, Steve Van Zandt.

More Film

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves Inclusive

    The Secret Power of 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Is Inclusion

    In a year that gave us films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” this weekend’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” delivers one more home run for underrepresented groups in media in 2018. An animated film that takes advantage of Sony’s piece of the Marvel pie, “Spider-Verse” not only puts a mixed-race, middle-class teenager in the [...]

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Jeff Bridges to Receive Cecil B. DeMille Award at 2019 Golden Globes

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced that Jeff Bridges will receive the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 76th Golden Globes on Jan. 6, 2019. Bridges has starred in films like “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” “True Grit,” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” More Reviews Film Review: 'Nona' Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' “The [...]

  • Charlotte Rampling Euphoria

    Berlin Film Festival: Charlotte Rampling to Receive Honorary Golden Bear

    Oscar-nominated actress Charlotte Rampling, whose career has spanned more than 100 film and television roles, will be honored with a special Golden Bear at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. The fest will also pay homage to Rampling by screening a selection of her work, including Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” (1982), Francois Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” (2003) [...]

  • The Sisters Brothers

    France's Lumieres Awards Unveil Nominations

    Jacques Audiard’s “The Sisters Brothers” has been nominated for best film and director at the 24th Lumieres Awards, France’s equivalent of the Golden Globes. The Western starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal world-premiered at Venice Film Festival, where it earned Audiard a best director award. More Reviews Film Review: 'Nona' Tallinn Film [...]

  • CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We

    CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We Pictures

    Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has signed with We Pictures, the production and distribution company founded by Hong Kong-born director and producer Peter Chan Ho-sun. It aims to boost the company’s footprint both in China and abroad. Within China, CAA China will help We Pictures to develop new business partnerships and find new sources of investment [...]

  • Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Receive

    'Carol' Producers Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Be Honored by BAFTA

    Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley, the producers of such films as “Carol,” “Their Finest” and the recent “Colette” starring Keira Knightley, will receive the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award at the BAFTA Film Awards. The prolific pair run Number 9 Films and have a long list of credits. They will pick up their accolade at [...]

  • BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

    Korea Box Office: 'Rhapsody' Reclaims Top Spot, Beats ‘Spider-Verse’

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” reclaimed top place at the South Korean box office, overtaking “Default,” after spending two weekends in second place. The Fox release earned $4.38 million from 554,000 admissions for a total of $61.0 million from 7.94 million admissions. In its seventh weekend of release “Rhapsody” accounted for 27% of the weekend box office. CJ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content