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What We Do Is Secret Review

By David Kempler

These Germs Are Not Quite Infectious

I was a big fan of punk rock back in the day so when I heard that I would be seeing a docudrama about a famous punk rock band, I was excited. When I find out the name of the band was The Germs I scratched my head and tried to conjure up a memory of them but it was no use. I didn't have a clue. After seeing "What We Do Is Secret" I understand why I don't remember them. They were almost literally a blip on the radar of the music scene, even in the world of punk. That isn't to say that they did not have a hardcore following or that they didn't have some redeeming musical qualities, although that would still be a question left to your individual taste in music.

The Germs were the brainchild of Jan Paul Beahm who renamed himself Darby Crash and gave names to the rest of the band. Well, actually they weren't really a band. Beahm just decided he wanted to front a band and asked his friend to join him despite neither of them being able to play a musical instrument. They then placed an ad on a bulletin board asking for two girls with no musical abilities (or something like that) to join them. The Germs were born as Darby Crash (Shane West), Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips), Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez) and Don Bolles (Noah Segan).

The band got their first gig before they had even practiced but that didn't stop them. Armed with Crash's poetry they flew headfirst into the punk clubs in Los Angeles. Seemingly within moments they were the hottest band on the scene. 

"What We Do Is Secret" is shot as a faux-documentary both in present tense and as flashback. An off screen voice periodically interviews Crash on his beliefs, theories of punk and life in general. His answers range from absurd to insightful and present Crash as a very bright, yet very disturbed young man. Crash has latched onto David Bowie as his role model, even taking it so far as to use Bowie's song "Five Years" as his own personal mantra. To Crash, five years represents how long things take, from beginning to end, and that all flows in a circle. Hey, he thought it was deep.

Shane West gives a near brilliant performance as Crash and Phillips is excellent as Lorna Doom. Gonzalez just doesn't ring true as Pat Smear, perhaps it is because he seems like more of a New York kind of guy than a California kind of guy, or maybe it's because he reminded me of Juan Epstein on "Welcome Back Kotter". It's hard to know whether Segan is an accurate depiction of the band's drummer but his wig is so disconcerting as to make him painfully misplaced here. Maybe the real Don Bolles had a weird wig. I honestly don't know.

First time director Rodger Grossman does a commendable job here, for the most part. At times, "What We Do Is Secret" even crackles with the raw energy of the punk era. At other times, though, it drags but there is an air of authenticity that pervades and that is because the real Lorna Doom is behind the scenes helping to recreate the world of The Germs, at least how she remembers it.

Just like a good punk story should, it contains the inevitable fall from its apex. All in all it's a good view into a world I thought I knew pretty well but maybe the only ones who really knew it had to live closer to its bone than I did. That may also account for why I'm still kicking.

What did you think?

Movie title What We Do Is Secret
Release year 2007
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary It's the 70's and punk rock is exploding in L.A. in this biopic of the Germs, a band destined to live in the hearts of a very few but very dedicated fans.
View all articles by David Kempler
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