10 Things the CBGB Movie Got Wrong

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The CBGB biopic is out this week, and with it, the collective sound of every living old punk groaning. As we wrote in the review, this thing is a real stinker--a mostly turgid, boring-as-hell, campy slog. There's a lot the film misses, but that's forgivable, we suppose: It's hard to wrap up that much history in 90 minutes. Things were bound to get left out. What's more irksome are the things the movie gets wrong; some of them glaring, some admittedly nitpicky. Anyway, we decided to get our Neil deGrasse Tyson on and point out some of the film's missteps. Hey, ho, let's go...

See also: First Look: CBGB Movie Poster Is Your Worst Fear Realized

1. Its depiction of Hilly Kristal
We'll start with what they got right: Hilly Kristal was an extremely giving and generous man.To its credit, CBGB the movie shows ample evidence of that--Hilly pulls junkies off the street to give them jobs, pays out of pocket for tours of bands he believes in, bails friends out of jail, and generally has such a lack of ego that he often puts himself dead last. When we first meet grown-up HIlly in the film he's already run two clubs into the ground, and the legal battles and failed rent payments that would eventually force him out of 315 Bowery show he may have not been a stickler for details, but CBGB largely depicts him as a doormat incapable of much, especially a daunting task like, say, running one of the world's most renowned clubs. Which is odd. Because that's what he did. HE RAN CBGB. It would be like Tom Hank's character in Apollo 13 having no idea how to fly a space shuttle, or Denzel Washington portraying Malcolm X as a guy who want to start a fuss.

2. The complete lack of anyone of color
You could file this under "couldn't fit everything" but it strikes us as odd that, with a storied and well-documented history of bands with members of color playing CBGB--Bad Brains, Living Colour, Fishbone, Poly Styrene, James "Blood" Ulmer, The Dead Kennedys--that not one of them gets shown, let alone mentioned (the Voidoids, at least, get a brief snippet of "Blank Generation" played over a scene). In fact, the only people of color depicted in the entire film are a Latin gang that gets into a knife fight with The Dead Boys after the latter pulls some super "punk" moves (see No. 7) in a convenience store.

3. There are stickers on the wall of CBGB before any bands have actually played CBGB
In the movie HIlly decides to open a country, bluegrass and blues bar in the heart of the Bowery, and before anyone even plucks a note--before the place has even become a venue, hosted one event or become any semblance of what it would later be--the walls are covered with band stickers. This is quite a feat, especially given some of those bands, by the clubs founding in '73, have yet to form.

4. Punk did not start in a Connecticut basement
CBGB begins with a (literal) record scratch moment. You thought punk began at 315 Bowery. Nope. It began in a basement in Connecticut with two ne'er-do-wells, John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil. There, according to the film, the two created Punk magazine, and thusly punk. Never mind that you can't have a zine that covers punk if punk doesn't already exist (there could be no Village Voice without a village, after all), or that McNeil's contention that he coined the term has long been disputed. CBGB treats his claim as gospel. It's the film's lede.


5. "The only bar in the city with Fresca on tap"

This might be correct, actually. There's a fair chance CBGB was, as Alan Rickman's Hilly (pictured above, looking helpless alongside his dog) proudly and frequently notes, "the only bar in the city with Fresca on tap." But, honestly, who could possibly care? "Fresca" is brand-dropped throughout the movie, and maybe those close to him knew HIlly's love of the grapefruit flavored, zero-calorie soda, and thought it deserved inclusion, but it's truly weird that the film makes it such a point of emphasis.

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27 comments
hogwild
hogwild

Good to hear from people who were there.  Even thought the movie had a lot of flaws it has made me go to Wikipedia and Itunes to learn more about some of the great acts that played there.  It brings the history of an important part of music to the masses. It is up to the masses to find the truth.

rottgutt
rottgutt

Give me a fucking break. As someone familiar with CB's from "back in the day" this piece was meant to be, and advertised as such, a "FLUFFY" joint. If you want historical accuracy, watch one of the many documentaries on Hilly or CBGB. There are plenty. If you want to pass on the BASIC STORY of what transpired at 315 Bowery during that time period to people that were never there, and quite possibly have never visited NYC at all? Make a movie just like this one. It was a fun flick, and no one should care so much about knit-picking its historical accuracy. I give the movie 7 out of 10 for it's entertainment value alone...well acted, shot in a "comic book" fashion (which should be an indication of what the producers of the movie were after in the first place) and easy to watch...it was a FUN movie.

cfgodwell
cfgodwell

I know the few shots of the trains of that day were the new silver trains with digital numbers and that drove me up a wall. Where are the shitty albeit beautiful graffiti covered trains?

lauraquattropani
lauraquattropani

Got news for ya, the Bowery was that and more!!!  As a matter of fact, the whole city was like a damn war zone!  It was junkies and bums, rats and garbage everywhere!!!  Obviously you weren't there, but I was!


starstar
starstar

i love punk music..i wish i could hang out at CBGB'S back then...

themusicaljunkie96
themusicaljunkie96

This to me feels like the writer is desperately looking for reasons to criticize the film. (Seriously,"The only bar in the city with Fresca on tap"?) These mentioned things happen in most biopics. No movie can ever be 100 percent truthful. It's always tied in with a little fiction. Anyways, watch the movie and get your own personal opinion. The soundtrack kicks ass, by the way. 

luther14
luther14

I worked for Hilly from 1985 - 1989. I knew Hilly pretty well. Formative experience. I haven't seen the movie and I'm not in a rush to. I don't care to see fiction. I have my own memories. From the descriptions and reviews, it looks like an attempt at a 'Sid and Nancy' kind of movie. Trying to capture some essence but throw the facts out the window. That kind of entertainment holds little value for me. 

I think of real musicians and the technical people I knew. I think of the Kristals. It was a family business and one of those amazing New York stories. The place is a part of the music landscape. It's story is worthy of a good documentary - like Motown, Stax, or Chess. That's right - I'm also one of those that has a limited like for 'Cadillac Records'. Maybe it serves a purpose in putting the name in people's minds - but little else. 

For me, this kind of entertainment is barely a step above a neighborhood children's talent show. I mean all of these glamorized and fictionalized things that depict one or two poor writer's vision(s). I refer back to 'Sid and Nancy' as an example. Sophomoric stuff for simple minds. Okay if you have the time to waste. Harmless. 

There is something else at play here. Lisa Kristal is an executive producer. I know Lisa. Anything that has her black heart attached is faulty from the get go. Then I look at the CBGB corporation. There is a music festival. I went last year. I saw little in innovative or pioneering musical ideas. The most interesting thing I heard about the festival this year was about gay activist Jim Fouratt dumping Coca-Cola in front of the red carpet as a protest to CBGBs corporate ties to the giant - and their sponsorship of the Sochi olympics in homophobic Russia. That's right - CBGB are tied to the bad guys and are a talent vacuum. Now there's a story. Scandalous. 

Bottom line is, if your life is interesting then movies of this type may not be. I need the real thing. But that's just me. 


garibaldi
garibaldi

It seems as though the point of this article is to nitpick things that are minor and inconsequential to the movie for the sake of nitpicking the CBGB movie, because that's a cool, music writer-y thing to do.  Did you even do any research before your big myth debunking here? Doesn't seem like it.

illgen
illgen

Past is nostalgic, the present rock scene is what's tangible, see what's happening in New York rock scene right now at

www.NYCrocks.TV

suzinnebarrett
suzinnebarrett

Went there once, and CBGB's was a total DIVE in every sense of the word.  Yeah, clubland wasn't always clean or pretty, but Hilly Crystal, who has been championed for years, was hardly a responsible club owner.  The bathrooms were a health hazard.  

Alan Richman as Hilly Krystal?  You can't recreate the NYC of the 70s, but as an active participant of the scene in the late 70s, this city was never more exciting than it was then.  

Binkconn
Binkconn topcommenter

Wow, a guy nearly got electrocuted. That happened to Keith in '65.

fablalumia
fablalumia

For the Record, Wayne County played there in December 1973, 6 months before Television 'discovered' the place..

Bethel Rogers
Bethel Rogers

Artistic license @ Useful for filling in gaps, whether they be factual, compositional, historical or other gaps a slight manipulation for dramatic effect

purchase2
purchase2

#11. Karen Kristal

Although they had already been divorced for several years at that point, when Hilly opened CBGB's it was his ex-wife Karen whose name was listed on the liquor license. And Karen was anything but a silent partner. Anyone with memories of CBGB's hardcore Sunday matinees will likely still have Karen's presence burned into their consciousness. "How old are you?" was literally her only way of determining 14 year olds from 16 year olds. 

"I was more scared of Karen than I was of the skinheads," said George Tabb, a founding member of the False Prophets, former CBGB employee, and longtime Kristal family friend, as well as a reporter who covered the scene at the club for Maximum Rock'n'Roll. "They all had this respect for her. She put on the matinees—it was her idea, and that basically started the whole hardcore movement in New York."

http://www.villagevoice.com/2007-09-11/news/cbgb-made-hilly-kristal-a-millionaire-his-ex-got-nothing/

cfgodwell
cfgodwell

Damn sure was. My pops used to bring me down down to the Bowery and it was a pure shit hole. To be honest, I prefer it that way. That's how diamonds like CBGB shine.

cfgodwell
cfgodwell

Luther, I won't proclaim to be an authoritarian on Punk, but I appreciate your perspective. Enlightening and a bit depressing to hear what's happened with the name.

santiamriver
santiamriver

@luther14 Saw the movie, it truly sucked. Having worked there, you would know more than me, but I was in cbgb's 2, 3 times a week in the late '70's, that and Max's Kansas City was my places. This movie didn't capture it at all. And Alan Rickman sucked as Hilly. And he kept his Brit accent, that really through me off. What's with Hollywood using all these Brits. Anyway there was no throughline or point of the movie . But no, it wasn't like Sid and Nancy. That actually was a good movie. The director, Alex Cox was making a strong point of the that time period, and somewhat of a social statement, it worked. There was none of that in here. It didn't make any statement, didn't honestly depict the times, was not really a biop of Hilly, nothing, but the music

cfgodwell
cfgodwell

Did seem a bit like premeditated hating.

luther14
luther14

@Bertil Rogers Is that a fancy way of saying 'taking a creative dump?'

luther14
luther14

@purchase2 Thanks for setting the record straight. I worked for Hilly in the 80s, during the day, helping him out with everything. Karen was there and active as well. There's a real story there. 

garibaldi
garibaldi

@purchase2 yeah but the movie never went past the 70's and very early 80's (before the NYHC scene). Thats also why its absurd for the author to think that Fishbone should have been included.

rottgutt
rottgutt

For you guys to be arguing Brit accents and referring to Sid n Nancy just tells me you're missing the point of this style of entertainment. It may not be for you, but if it were to be screened by the average joe, I think 9 out of 10 would consider it to be entertaining, and why are movies made? ENTERTAINMENT. The defense rests...

luther14
luther14

@garibaldi @purchase2 The main point of the original comment is that Hilly would not be running the place at all, even in the 70s, without Karen. Her daughter, Lisa Kristal, conveniently left that out of the film. 

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