‘CBGB’ the Movie Brings Punk Rock to the Multiplex
In a strange twist of fate, you can thank the legend of late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson for helping to bring CBGB the movie to the big screen.
Husband-and-wife filmmaking duo writer/director Randall Miller and writer/producer Jody Savin -- and partner producer/music supervisor Brad Rosenberger -- were working on a biopic on the Beach Boys drummer when the actor cast to portray Wilson bailed out, leaving the project dead in the water. "We said we got to make another movie now," Miller recalls. "We have this sort of energy going here."
Fortunately, the trio had another project on the backburner: The story of CBGB, the nightclub started by a two-time failed business man named Hilly Kristal in an attempt to bring country and other roots music to New York, hence the club's name (which stands for country, blues, and bluegrass). Kristal failed on that front, but he inadvertently became a founding father of the punk rock movement, as his club became an incubator of sorts for such now-legendary acts as the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, and scores of others.
In the past, Miller and Savin had worked with Alan Rickman, best known for the role of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. He appeared in their 2008 film Bottle Shock as well as 2007's Nobel Son and through a bit of fortuitous timing, he was available to work with them again. "When the other actor dropped out of the [Dennis Wilson] movie, Alan signed on to CBGB, and we said, 'OK, let's go make this movie. We can do it on a shoestring and do it well.'"
It's Rickman who stars in the lead role as Kristal, a bumbling businessman with an ear and an eye for talent and an openness to new music. The acclaimed actor wasn't initially familiar with the story of Kristal or CBGB, but one of his famous friends had a history with the club. In the past, Rickman had done theater with Trudie Styler, whose husband, Sting, made his U.S. debut with The Police at CBGB.
"He told Alan this great story about how he had no money and he bought a cup of coffee at CBGBs, but he dropped it, and the lady behind the bar offered him another cup, but he said, 'I don't have any money.' And she said, 'Don't worry about it. This is America. We'll refill it for you for free.' From that day on he decided he loved CBGB and he loved America....When Alan heard that story, he realized this is a place that had incredible history to it," Miller says.
In bringing the story of CBGB to the screen, Miller and his crew worked tirelessly to recreate that history as accurately as possible, down to the club's legendary disgusting bathrooms. Since the Bowery has changed dramatically since GBGB's '70s heyday, they shot sparingly in New York, instead opting for -- of all places -- Savannah, Georgia, where they recreated the legendary club on a soundstage and shot some street scenes downtown.