DVD review: Looking for Johnny – The Legend of Johnny Thunders

Looking for Johnny - The Legend of Johnny Thunders

Jungle [Released 3.11.14]

Rock n Roll hero, Rock n Roll casualty, Rock n Roll junkie- take your pick, any of these three could describe Johnny Thunders- the New York Doll, punk icon and inspiration to many a band for years to come.

The world lost Johnny on April 23rd 1991 and with “Looking for Johnny” director Danny Garcia has made a documentary that looks at his life through the eyes and experiences of those that were around him.

This stellar cast includes band mates Walter Lure, Billy Rath and Sylvain Sylvain, Hanoi Rocks’ Sami Yaffa, the voice of Malcolm McLaren, legendary photographer Bob Gruen, various managers from throughout his career as well as countless friends and colleagues.

We start with the creation and ultimate breakdown of The New York Dolls and for such an influential band it has always mystified me how they weren’t much bigger at the time. As with the other stages of Thunders’ career there are candid and insightful interviews with the likes of fellow Doll Sylvain Sylvain, managers, roadies and friends- there is also some raw but awesome live footage of the band as their story unfolds.

We then move on to The Heartbreakers and the period post Dolls. It is here that we get the first sad sight of rock n roll survival as Billy Rath is a shadow of his former self- you then realise that the darkness has been growing through the film as the drugs crept into Johnny’s life, sometimes consuming all in their way, and it has to be said that throughout “Looking for Johnny” his interviews seemingly feature him in some form of wastage. Band mate Walter Lure gives us an insight into The Heartbreakers and again we have some of that brilliant live footage from the time.

It is at this point that we experience the various projects that surrounded the on/off Heartbreakers story- Gang War, Living Dead and debut solo album “So Alone”. We also hear the story of the Heartbreakers “L.A.M.F” album- months in the making only to be released with a mix so poor that in the end it killed the album, and the band, for now.

Then we hear of the infamous 1982 Swedish TV appearance where he was so out of it that the footage never aired, the press lit up and the tour was cancelled.  However, it was also around this time that Thunders released his acoustic “Hurt Me” album which showcased his talent as a songwriter and by releasing this in 1983 I can’t tell if he was ahead of his time or backdated?

If the Johnny that you are looking for is one on a rock n roll jolly then I warn you that you are going to find a story of drugs, chaotic live shows, a man who beat his wife for her welfare money and who also ripped off his best friend and musical partner Jerry Nolan for cash, a man that seems to destroy everything in his career that starts to go well. But also a story of a player whose guitar sound is so distinctive, a musical inspiration to generations and a man who died aged 38 from leukaemia, aided by years of abuse.

The DVD’s extra features include the films trailer, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage and a handful of promo video clips.

However, it is the end of the main feature that sums up Johnny Thunders perfectly as Sylvain tells us that Bob Dylan wishes he had written his song “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”, the perfect ending to a well put together document of his life.  *****

Review by Nikk Gunns

Director Danny Garcia answers a few questions from Nikk Gunns…

1- 23 years after the death of Johnny Thunders, why now?

Because it was about time there was a decent documentary about the life and times of Johnny Thunders. All I wanted was to make a film I would like to sit and watch as a Johnny Thunders fan, a film that would make me want to listen to his music again. And you know, it’s great to have Johnny’s fans appreciate it because this film was made for them.

2- “Looking For Johnny” is very well put together, how long did the whole process take to complete and did you find those around Johnny were eager to co-operate?

A little over two years. It wasn’t that easy at first but having Stevie Klasson on board from day one made it easier because he understood the kind of film this was gonna be and he told everybody around JT this wasn’t another exploitative piece on Johnny’s habits but a tribute to his music and his life. So more and more people joined the party and we ended up interviewing over 50 people.

3- What kind of a reaction has the film received from Johnny’s family and bandmates?

They love it, which is the best compliment one can get, honestly. Susanne (Johnny’s ex) and her daughter Jaime Genzale came to the premiere in Stockholm and Jaime ended up spinning at the afterparty with Stevie. The NY premiere was better than I had imagined, everybody was there and we had a great afterparty too with NY Junk and Walter Lure. Billy Rath thanked me for making this film when we met in Boston. James Williamson too. Even Patti Paladin digs it, which coming from her is like a having a golden seal of approval. Everybody knows how much of a perfectionist she is.

4- What is your next project, would you do it all again?

We have a few ongoing projects at Chip Baker Films. We’re already working on a film about Sid & Nancy called Sad Vacation and we’re also finishing another documentary on Ana Curra and Parálisis Permanente, who were probably the coolest band to come out of Spain ever.

5 – Were you pleased with the reaction to the film you did on the Clash?

I’m pleased with that documentary too. The Clash were my favourite band when I was a kid and nobody got a proper explanation when they broke up so that’s why I made it. I knew it was gonna be controversial because of what’s said in the film but we’re adults now and we can surely deal with the truth, can’t we? But really, all I wanted was my money back for Cut the Crap.

Danny Garcia



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