CBGB (Blu-ray Review)

CBGB - www.whysoblu.comAlan Rickman stars as legendary NYC club owner Hilly Kristal, who during the 1970s, wanted to create a venue for country, bluegrass and blues music (thus the name CBGB). When those acts became difficult to book, he shifted the club’s focus to local bands playing original music, launching the careers of Patti Smith, Blondie, the Talking Heads and the Ramones and helping to define New York’s punk scene and changing the face of music.


CBGB - Ashley Greene - www.whysoblu.com


CBGB is the story of the (in) famous Manhattan music club that was home to many punk rock and new wave artists of those times. Many bands would make their debuts there. Some wound up making it and some were never to be heard from again. The acronym of CBGB stands for: Country BlueGrass Blues, which is what its owner, Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) wanted to open. Being smack in the middle of a dirty early 70’s New York borough wasn’t going to help the situation by having fans of country, bluegrass, and blues magically show up. Things would have to go a little differently than originally planned. Enter the bright beginnings of punk rock in Manhattan.

As far as CBGB the movie goes, well, it’s a two-part component. The film is about a tenacious individual named Hilly Kristal, who was born on a farm, and ended up running away from the farm…when he was still a toddler. He was obviously meant for something more and that more was music. The film gets going after that brief “origin tale” as Hilly gets a loan from his mother to open up a country, bluegrass, and blue’s club over in Manhattan, New York.

Things start off a bit rocky and pretty stay there for the remainder of the film. Through this punk rock journey Hilly will have to navigate through piss, shit, blood, sweat, tears, etc., and that’s just from the CBGB’s one bathroom. His estranged daughter, Lisa Kristal (Ashley Greene), comes to crash at the bar and ends up being the club’s accountant, because Kristal is too incompetent to run the club himself. His best mate Marv Ferguson (Donal Logue) is also in tow as his bartender and general manager, while “Idaho” (Freddy Rodriguez) is a junkie bum Hilly met outside of the joint day and decided to just take him. Hilly also has a dog named Jonathan that craps all over the place.

Those scenes of “family” drama aside from the music are fine and Rickman really shines in them as do the rest of the cast. When the film focuses on the music, acts, debauchery, it aims high but doesn’t quite nail it. It does get A-for effort, though. It was hilarious to see some well-known actors tackle some of these punk rock/new wave icons, but a bit of a cheat that they had to lip sync to the actual tracks. Yes, I know that the time and budget weren’t there, but it sort of takes away from the big picture. The film is also edited into a pseudo-comic book type of film, because some of the transitions are done in comic book panels. Have you seen the director’s cut of The Warriors? Like that. It also focuses on the creation of “Punk” magazine, which to my understanding was created to promote and be a CBGB’s companion of sorts. I don’t know if that’s the truth or not but that’s what the film shows.

Now the biggest drawbacks, and they are not my personal drawbacks, because they didn’t bother me, are that the CBGB’s set contains many stickers and band swag from groups that weren’t even around yet in those days sprinkled about on the walls and decor. If you listen to the audio commentary by the filmmakers you will see that it was all done intentionally, because it looked downright cool. Great production design is great production design. I do think that if the film ran an extra 30 minutes or so, and kept the high energy it had throughout, it would be a much more epic film. It does come to a halt when Hilly decides that he wants to branch out into band management (The Dead Boys subplot). We do get into that angle and then have to retreat. I think that angle hurt the film, because it’s not fleshed out all the way. More time was needed, in my opinion.

 Also, I did like the duet by Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop of “I’m your dog.” Hell, it may not have happened in real life, but it’s a nice touch. It made me smile. The inclusion of The Ramones and their drama is pretty spot on considering that their characters perform non-Ramones songs. I think there may have been a rights issue. Their scenes are great. I enjoyed CBGB more than I expected and think if you go in with an open mind you will also enjoy it. If there is anything that you can take away from CBGB it would have to be Alan Rickman’s stellar performance. It’s HIS film.


CBGB - Alan Rickman - www.whysoblu.com


CBGB is presented in 1080p, 2.40:1 widescreen. It’s very appropriate that CBGB was shot in panoramic mode due to the film taking place mostly in the cramp quarters of this dirty and dingy club. Nice touch. The image itself is pristine, with only a few minor instances of softness here and there. The color palette shines as everyone lucks natural, with the exception of “Idaho” (Freddy Rodriguez) due to him being a junkie. Black levels are free of crush and contrast levels never look blown out. Edge enhancement is also kept in check. CBGB 

CBGB - Malin Akerman - www.whysoblu.com


CBGB is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. If it’s one film that is deserving of a loud and bombastic soundtrack it’s CBGB. I would say it delivers in spades. The film rocks out with its you know what out and delivers the goods. We get several scenes that deal with the real life happenings that surround the drama that goes with running a punk rock club and then there is the drama of the punk rock bands themselves. The audio track delivers on both fronts. Dialogue is clean and crisp, even “Idaho’s” (Freddy Rodriguez) wasted out rumblings can be clearly understood as can the lyrics of most bands that are depicted. The surround sound channels pick up the chatter created by those club-goers standing in the back quite nicely. The LFE channel also does it’s part without going into overkill. CBGB sounds great.

CBGB - Patti Smith - www.whysoblu.com


CBGB comes packed with a few extras. We get a full feature-length audio commentary by the filmmakers along with some random outtakes with no visual FX work done to them. They dirtied up “Idaho” (Freddy Rodriguez) via CGI from what I could tell, and several deleted scenes. It’s a decent amount of extras but not very comprehensive. The audio commentary was my favorite of the bunch, though.

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Commentary By the Filmmakers

CBGB - Taylor Hawkins and Johnny Galecki - www.whysoblu.com


A brisk-less-than-two-hour romp back to the early-late 70’s was what the doctor ordered. CBGB was a blast and I enjoyed it for the most part. Sure, it could have been tweaked here and there, certain parts could have been removed or added, but the fun and energy and just being there at the beginning of an era is what really pushes CBGB to the top. I’m no music scholar and wasn’t even alive during the real joint’s inception but I can appreciate a film that is clearly in love with the history of its subject. It transcends and it’s enjoyable. The above average video, audio, and supplements only help the cause. CBGB is definitely worth experiencing. Remember, I’m your dog. 😉


Order CBGB on Blu-ray!

CBGB - www.whysoblu.com


Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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