'Danny Says': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
An enjoyable romp through several of pop culture's most exciting scenes

From Harvard Law to punk, Danny Fields was a man who knew everyone.

He broke up the Beatles, set Jim Morrison up with Nico, and pitted Alice Cooper against Donny Osmond in the pages of a teenybopper magazine — Danny Fields has lived a much more interesting life than you have, whether you know his name or not. In Brendan Toller's lively if, by necessity, incomplete-feeling doc, Fields and an array of pals (famous and otherwise) walk us through a life on the inside. While some of the stories are far from new (the punk rock oral history Please Kill Me, for instance, contains several), it's a treat to hear them in Fields's wry voice. The doc isn't likely to attract as much attention as the similarly themed Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, but the punk cognoscenti should love it.

Now in his mid-'70s, Fields recalls a friendless youth in Brooklyn and a home in which amphetamines were consumed like M&Ms by mother and child alike. He was 15 and at college when someone took him to see Nina Simone, and the encounter with a yet-to-be-famous, still insecure artist seems to have set the die: From Simone to, most famously, the Ramones, Fields would know groundbreaking musicians before they fully knew themselves. And he'd be an active participant in their stories, many of which are visualized here with colorful (but sometimes on-the-nose) animation.

A self-accepting gay man well before Stonewall, Fields's interest in cutting-edge scenes like those at Andy Warhol's Factory had as much to do with a taste for beautiful people as with music. But his ear helped when he became the "company freak" at Elektra Records, staying out later than label execs in search of wild new talent. He got record deals for the MC5 and Iggy Pop (and eventually introduced the latter to cocaine), but he had a way of getting fired or leaving a job before it really turned lucrative.

That's most obvious in his discussion of the Ramones, who were so unknown when he heard them they agreed to let him be their manager if he'd buy them a new drum kit. He could be rich if he had managed to stay with them. But regret about money is clearly not the source of the "existential despair" we start to hear about toward the film's end, and Toller isn't probing enough to give us any good reasons for why this extraordinary life hasn't led to a greater sense of satisfaction. With the low-hanging fruit of backstage anecdotes all around him, it's easy to understand his reluctance to push.

Production company: Outre Films
Director: Brendan Toller
Producer: Pamela Lubell
Editor: Ian Markiewicz
Music: Henri Scars Struck
Sales: Submarine Entertainment
No rating, 102 minutes

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