Darby Crash (1958-80) was a lightning bolt in leather, a poet and musician with a taste for self-promotion and self-mutilation.
While he never had the fame or musical influence of, say, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain, for a few years during the Jimmy Carter administration, Crash (born Jan-Paul Beahm) was the front man of the Germs. The heroin-fueled onstage chaos of these punk rockers made them cult figures in the emerging Los Angeles new wave scene.
Rejected by his parents and ejected from high school, Crash became a Nietzsche-quoting anarchist. He gave voice, grating and eloquent, to the rage and social disaffection of a counterculture that held itself together with safety pins and hard drugs.
What We Do Is Secret, a biopic that takes its title from a Germs song, is a belated eulogy to Crash and his bandmates. (One of them, Belinda Carlisle, became lead singer of the Go-Gos; another, Pat Smear, played guitar with Nirvana and Foo Fighters.)
Rodger Grossman's hagiographic film strikes all the dissonant notes while pungently capturing Crash's beery, bleary, ragged lifestyle. But despite a terrific performance from Shane West, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Crash, Secret is a chronology, not a biopic.
It shows the viewer what the L.A. punk scene looked and sounded like. But it doesn't probe why Crash, an unloved son, dared his fans to assault him. Or how his sexual panic - it is broadly hinted that he was a non-practicing homosexual in a homophobic musical scene - might have led him to drugs and suicide at the age of 22 the day before John Lennon was shot.
What We Do Is Secret ** (out of four stars)
Written and directed by Rodger Grossman. With Shane West, Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzales, Noah Segan and Ashton Holmes. Distributed by Vision Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.
Parent's guide: R (drugs, profanity, sexuality)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-8545402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/