Movie Review: “Danny Says” profiles a musical tastemaker for a generation

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Danny Fields was “the Company Freak” for Elektra Records in the 1960s, the “interface” between the drugs, sex and rock’n roll culture he immersed himself in, and “the suits.”

He was “the speck of sand in the oyster” who instigated great things — The Doors’ rise to stardom, the birth of Glam.

He is a gay man who “was never in, he was always ‘out'” who identified many a future star, from ur punks the MC-5 to Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen to The Ramones.

That last band, which launched punk in both America and Britain, even wrote a song about him. The new documentary about Fields, “Danny Says,” takes its title from that tune, and offers a refreshingly frank if somewhat adoring appreciation for the man who always seemed to be not where the action was, but where it was going.

Brendan Toller’s film has Fields, born Daniel Feinberg, accepting plaudits hurled his way by Iggy (born James Newell Osterberg, Jr), Alice Cooper, Judy Collins and others.

And he hum-brags through 100 minutes or so of Danny’s Greatest Hits.

The magazine that published the infamous Beatles’ “more popular than Jesus” interview and quote? Danny ran it.

The guy who transformed Elektra from a sleepy folk record label to a rock and then punk giant? Danny, as a sort of A & R guy and Dr. Feelgood, pulled that off.

His gift was he would “look at something every else should see,” Iggy says. From The Doors to Aerosmith, Lou Reed to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Danny was the first to see and hear something special in them.

It’s rare to hear someone at the heart of the drug-addled/corpse-riddled music scene of the 1960s speak so frankly about the era and his place in it without apology. Danny Fields is that guy.

Yeah, he got Iggy, introduced Iggy to Bowie, and gave Iggy his first taste of cocaine. No, Jim Morrison didn’t care for him at all. According to Danny.

He glommed onto the Warhol crowd, pushed Nico into the spotlight and at Jim Morrison and always had the best drugs when the artists wanted them. He hung with music tastemaker journalist Lisa Robinson, and has funny anecdotes about boats she missed.

But as celebratory as Toller’s film is, Fields comes off as not necessarily the best influence to have in your corner. The death toll among his “discoveries” speaks to that, though the film doesn’t broach that subject.

No more than the subject of him changing his name. A lovely prologue lets Fields show us his bar mitvah home movies and rattle off his wunderkind college arrival, his odd jobs on his way to where the action was. But there’s something a little creepy about him that Toller doesn’t pursue.

Was he hand-picked to make this film? His IMDB biography seems self-written and just as self-adoring, an artiste provocateur.

Which is what this film actually lacks, provocation. The film celebrates him, but the lack of critical mulling over from people who aren’t in his fan club doesn’t keep him from seeming somewhat unlikeable.

Danny Fields is no “Supermensch,” no Tom Dowd, no matter what “Danny Says.”

You can’t help but feel a lot was left unsaid, that even the frankest comments seem only about the dead, that Danny Fields was everything he says he was — and more, and just possibly, less.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, frank discussions of drugs and sexuality

Cast: Danny Fields, Iggy Pop, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Jann Wenner, John Cameron Mitchell, Jac Holzman
Credits: Written and directed by Brendan Toller. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:47

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