Danny Says

Movies Reviews DANNY SAYS
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<i>Danny Says</i>

In his new documentary Danny Says, director Brendan Toller trots out one of the most tired of recent tropes in documentary cinema: cutesy animation to illustrate talking-heads interviews. In Toller’s film, that cutesy animation is courtesy of Emily Hubley, Johnny Woods and Matt Newman-Long, ranging from simple hand-drawn images on a blue background to elaborate stop-motion. As literal-minded as they can sometimes be, these sequences are, to be fair, visually inventive and alluring. Whatever the methods, though, the intent is the same throughout: to depict events in Danny Fields’ life that, one assumes, Toller didn’t have archival footage/still photos to cover.

Considering Toller’s subject, however, the stylistic cliché turns out to be necessary. For all the anecdotes he offers about his legendary life as a journalist, publicist and tastemaker during the heyday of the ’60s and ’70s American punk era, Danny Fields turns out to not be the most dynamic of interview subjects. Speaking in every featured interview in a near-monotone drawl—whether expressly for the film or through archival audio/video—Fields way he tells frankly takes some of the fun out of even his most colorful anecdotes.

This is a shame, because Fields’ life is, in fact, quite an interesting one. He’s something of a real-life Leonard Zelig some degree, his “talent” is being in the right place at the right time with the right crowd, whether that means Andy Warhol’s Factory in the ’60s or the punk scene of the ’70s. That’s not to say that he wasn’t proactive about ensuring his own future success, though. For two decades he seems to have had a remarkable penchant for reinvention: from magazine editor (he was instrumental, however inadvertently, in bringing about the Beatles’ “more popular than Jesus” controversy), to publicist for Elektra Records (the company’s first), to self-appointed press agent for The Doors. Through it all, he remained tirelessly committed to, as he says, seeking out the “crazy people,” to the point that he basically ushered in the punk era when he discovered and promoted the Ramones.

Danny Says also presents us with testimonials from friends—including legends like Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Tommy Ramone—and colleagues, one of whom fondly comments on Fields’ penchant for “outrageous behavior” as a press agent. Not that you’d get a sense of the supposed firebrand from the older, mellower Fields that dominates Toller’s film, and it’s perhaps a measure of how worshipful the director’s view of his subject is that he doesn’t try to probe more into the potentially less appealing sides of its subject. The closest Fields comes to letting us in on a thornier sense of his inner life happens towards the end of the film, when he admits feeling some regret at not devoting as much time to promoting himself as he did promoting others.

Otherwise, Danny Says basically plays like a feature-length nostalgia trip, and thus will appeal mostly to those in the audience already predisposed to warm feelings for the era it chronicles. (Toller even abruptly cuts his film off at 1980, when the Ramones dumped Fields and signed another manager, leaving barely a clue as to what he’s been doing since then.) Still, the film has its entertainment value. After all, only in this movie will you hear Fields’ story of Jim Morrison and Nico’s first meeting: an encounter marked by a hilariously overextended, stoned silence.

Director: Brendan Toller
Writer: Brendan Toller
Starring: Danny Fields, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Tommy Ramone, Jonathan Richman, Jac Holzman
Release Date: September 30, 2016

Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and The Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mezzanine and former editor-in-chief of In Review Online. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.