What We Do Is Secret
United States, 2007
Directed By: Rodger Grossman
Written By: Rodger Grossman & Michelle Baer Ghaffari
Starring: Shane West, Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzalez, Noah Segen, Ashton Holmes
Running Time: 92 minutes
Rated R for drug use, language and brief sexuality
3.5 out of 5 stars
DARBY CRASH: We’re fascists, not nazis.
INTERVIEWER: Who would be your ideal fascist leader?
DARBY CRASH: Myself.
Jon Paul Beahm, aka Bobby Pyn, aka Darby Crash, was the lead singer for The Germs, a ragtag band that came to dominate the L.A. punk scene in the late 70s. On the eve of John Lennon’s assassination, Crash finally made good on the suicide he had been promising for years, but his death was overshadowed and underreported due to omnipresent coverage of the Beatle icon’s murder. Before this film, I had never even heard of him.
Virgin director Rodger Grossman shoots the film as a mock-rock-doc, including “original” interviews with Darby Crash (played by Shane West), “interviewing” former band members Lorna Doom (played by Bijou Phillips) and Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez), and featuring “bootlegged” concert footage. What We Do Is Secret (named after one of The Germs’ songs) covers the bases of the band’s chaotic existence: their infamous first gig, where Darby jammed the microphone into a jar of peanut butter; how one of their members faked leukemia to get pity money for instruments; their Jerry Springer-esque gigs, never complete without a riot; and Darby’s repressed homosexuality, which may have directly contributed to his suicide. I typically detest biopics and reserve a special corner of hatred for musical ones (both Ray and Walk the Line were chores to finish), but Grossman’s unique approach, coupled with my Germs ignorance, inspired a modest interest that kept me engaged in spite of my biopic prejudice.
Grossman recreates the grungy punk scene with a low rent aesthetic and uses the conspicuosly shoestring budget to his advantage; wide establishing shots are nary to be found (expensive to set dress), replaced almost exclusively by closeups, which lends the film an introverted, claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s quite an effective compromise since the film is manifestly about getting inside of Darby’s headspace.
Shane West (an actor known primarily for his long running role on E.R.) not only inhabits the role with a relaxed familiarity, he’s a dead ringer for Darby himself. In fact, he’s so good that The Germs have now reunited and are touring with him as their lead singer. I wonder what Darby Crash would have had to say about that?
I’m a Germs/Crash newbie, so instead of waxing sage on a topic I know nothing about, let me relate what What We Do Is Secret taught me: Darby had a cultic charisma that was irresistible to the disenfranchised punk kids in L.A.; Germs concerts were events, not because of their musical artistry (initially they could not have even played on public access) but because of Darby’s unpredictability; the moment Darby realized that people were there for the spectacle and not his Revolution was pivotal in his road to suicide; the hyper-intelligent Crash (he was 22 when he ended his life) was big on talk, as evidenced by the quote above, but used pseudo-political rhetoric as a smokescreen for his own emptiness; everyone loved Darby, but no one Loved him, and his inability to reconcile with his own sexuality contributed to his suicide.
This is a well crafted film, notable for Grossman’s ability to harness his financial shortcomings in service to the story and West’s in-the-body performance. For Germs fans or anyone even casually interested in the history of punk, it’s a must-see.
What We Do Is Secret is currently playing every Friday in September at the Circle Cinema. Call 592-FILM for tickets and showtimes.
About the author:
Evan Derrick loves movies, loves talking about movies, and even makes them from time to time. In addition to being the founder and senior editor for MovieZeal.com, he is also a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and a father of two beautiful children. He can be reached for comment or complaint at firstname.lastname@example.org.