With three minor hits in a 50-year career, Iggy Pop was never really a rock star, yet he has become one of rock’s most beloved figures. It’s not just because he’s an arresting front man, having invented the stage dive and the dubious tactic of rolling in broken glass. Nor is it just because he and the Stooges are credited with distilling hard rock into a primitive sound that presaged the punk aesthetic by nearly a decade, or because Iggy (born James Osterberg) is the lone survivor of rock’s coolest three-way bromance, with David Bowie and Lou Reed. It’s mostly because he’s hilarious, reliably retelling maniacal stories with raspy, dry mirth.
So when Jim Jarmusch, the indie director whose career was catalyzed by years in the milieu of New York City’s CBGB nightclub, makes a film about Iggy and the Stooges called Gimme Danger, it’s safe to assume that up in rock heaven, Bowie and Reed just got their wings. Then along come two brats who claim to be in the world’s best band: oft-feuding U.K. siblings Liam and Noel Gallagher, who rival Donald Trump for egotism, bad behavior and twisted syntax. Turns out they’ve got their own movie, Oasis: Supersonic, and it’s not only better but funnier than the Jarmusch-Iggy-Stooges joint.
Directed by Mat Whitecross, Supersonic conveys the essential cheek and unbridled power that drive an arena-worthy band. Steeped in the Beatles, the Who and the rave-driven Manchester scene of the early ’90s, Oasis broke British sales records while whipping up a tabloid frenzy that feasted on every kerfuffle. “Oasis was like a Ferrari,” says quick-to-brawl singer Liam. “Great to look at, great to drive, and it’ll f-cking spin out of control every now and again.”
With crudely amusing animations, archival interviews and press clippings, Whitecross celebrates the astonishing early years of the band, from garage to smash hits “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” to a pair of Knebworth House concerts that drew 250,000 fans over two nights in 1996. Wisely, the story stops there, though the band limped on until 2009. This is no Behind the Music, with rise, fall and redemption–it’s just the fun stuff, up to when guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs says, “I always thought we should have bowed out after the second night at Knebworth.”
Sadly, Jarmusch doesn’t know when to call it quits with the Stooges and never matches the intensity of songs such as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Search and Destroy,” or the heroin- and booze-fueled chaos of his subjects. The director calls Iggy a “snarling, preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx and Arthur Rimbaud.” Which is true, but his verbal tribute has more verve than the film.
Things are fine when we’re listening to Iggy describe his act–“I just started jumping up and down, like baboons do before they’re gonna fight”–or watching him wriggle through a crowd. Everything else is inessential, especially the band’s victory-lap reunion after a three-decade hiatus. The Stooges were daring in their prime, but it’s hard to glimpse a threat in 50-something dudes getting the band back together in 2003. The real danger turns out to be the stroke, two heart attacks and sepsis that will kill three of them–but not Iggy–within six years of one another.
Jarmusch similarly botched his 1997 Neil Young concert film Year of the Horse by merely turning on the camera, making chitchat and letting the legend do his thing. The best rock films, like Supersonic, have the director’s imprint on every frame. Hanging back and being cooler than cool is a Jarmusch trademark, but when he gets up close with his idols, it’s an instinct that makes great artists look smaller than they really are.
This appears in the November 14, 2016 issue of TIME.