CBGB Blu-ray Review

CBGB is ostensibly a biopic of Hilly Kristal, legendary owner of the NYC music club that helped shape the Punk explosion in the 1970s. CBGB saw a number of musical legends play there, launching the careers of such acts as Patti Smith, Blondie, the Ramones and the Talking Heads. Music fans will want to like this movie but its quirky cast of characters begin to grate over its running time, as CBGB heavily relies on actors impersonating Rock stars of the past. It is cool at first but staged musical “performances” by actors pretending to be singers, turns repetitive and boring.

CBGB’s narrative is loosely framed around the birth of Punk music and Hilly Kristal’s life, predominantly concerning itself with his management of the CBGB club and the burgeoning Punk scene it helped to foster. Veteran character actor Alan Rickman plays Hilly, a failed bar owner that stumbled into Punk music after his ideas about Country music don’t take off in New York City in the early 1970s. The movie is a loose collection of vignettes, as the sprawling cast of characters that populate CBGB come in and out of Hilly’s life. This is not a tight story concerned with telling the inner emotional workings of Hilly or CBGB’s numerous performers.

If there is one thing that CBGB drives home, it is that Hilly Kristal had a keen eye for musical talent but very little business sense. He stores each night’s gross from the club in his freezer and the books are a mess until his daughter Lisa (Ashley Greene) helps out. Hilly would rather guide young bands than manage a smoothly operating music club. Rickman has to carry the movie but I am not sure he entirely pulls it off.

As musical acts come and go through the club, Hilly becomes the one constant, nurturing young talent such as the Ramones before they ever signed a record deal. This movie does cover Hilly’s disastrous management of the Dead Boys, a punk group from Cleveland that almost financially ruined him and the club. CBGB loves name-dropping famous stars, including bizarre snippets featuring Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Some of the actors in these roles take huge liberties with the well-known stars’ personae, occasionally coming off as bad karaoke. A special mention for Donal Logue should be noted, playing Hilly’s business partner Merv Ferguson. Even more than Rickman, Logue holds together the scenes he is in as the more business-minded partner and owner of CBGB.

Fans of classic Punk might want to give CBGB a shot. Everyone else should be more cautious with a movie that takes a very cursory look at a vital time in music history.

Movie ★★☆☆☆

Chillin' @ 8:56

XLRator Media has quickly established itself as a quality distributor on Blu-ray and CBGB is no exception. The main feature runs slightly over 102 minutes, encoded in AVC on a BD-25. The average video bitrate is a satisfactory 20.97 Mbps. Correctly framed in its scope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, CBGB’s 1080P video presentation looks stunning at times.

Director Randall Miller used a number of different stylistic conventions to tell the story of CBGB, including comic book art inspired by Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom. The footage also switches to very grainy 16mm film for the frontal shots of CBGB. But for the most part CBGB has excellent picture quality, displaying pleasing depth and razor-sharp detail. The film transfer looks completely free of digital noise reduction and edge enhancement, though some minor ringing results in visible aliasing. Outside of the brief 16mm shots, the video is pristine with top-notch clarity and a handsome color palette.

Some of the stylized moments obscure how great CBGB looks most of the time. Its superior resolution and dimensionality exhibit perfect black levels, almost too clean and nice for a movie about Punk music in the 1970s.

Video ★★★★☆

If you can say one thing about CGBG, its soundtrack rocks with the sounds of Seventies Punk music. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA is a wonderful mix, carefully spreading instruments across the soundfield for musical interludes by such acts as Blondie and Television. The music sounds great with a powerful kick from the sub channel, while sonic cues bleed into the surround channels with regularity. For a film so dominated by music, this lossless presentation is fantastic in its clarity and precision. One of the better musical mixes I’ve heard in recent times.

English SDH is the only subtitle option, displaying in a white font strictly inside the scope aspect ratio.

The separate soundtrack available for CBGB includes a nice sampling of relevant Punk music:

1. Life During Wartime (Talking Heads)
2. Kick Out The Jams – Uncensored Version (MC5)
3. Chatterbox (New York Dolls)
4. Careful (Television)
5. Blank Generation (Richard Hell & The Voidoids)
6. Slow Death (Flamin’ Groovies)
7. I Can’t Stand It (The Velvet Underground)
8. Out Of Control (Wayne County & The Electric Chairs)
9. Psychotic Reaction (The Count Five)
10. All For The Love Of Rock N Roll (Tuff Darts)
11. All By Myself (Johnny Thunders & THe Heartbreakers)
12. California Sun – Original DEMO (The Dictators)
13. Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth (Dead Boys)
14. I Got Knocked Down But I’ll Get Up (Joey Ramone)
15. Get Outa My Way (The Laughing Dogs)
16. Sunday Girl – 2013 Version (Blondie)
17. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)
18. Sonic Reducer (Dead Boys)
19. Roxanne (The Police)
20. Birds And The Bees (Hilly Kristal)

Audio ★★★★★

This is an average assortment of special features for an independent movie, though the commentary is pretty lively with three participants.

XLRator Media Trailers (06:17 in HD) – Trailers for Banshee Chapter, Holy Ghost People, and The Conspiracy all precede the main menu.

Deleted Scenes (02:36 in HD) – These two scenes didn’t make the final cut and that was probably a wise decision.

Outtakes (02:59 in HD) – Personally, including outtakes of Hilly’s dog going to the bathroom were unnecessary.

Commentary by Director Randall Miller, Producer Jody Savin, and Music Supervisor Brad Rosenberger – A friendly commentary with strong participation from all three members. A lot of background is provided on the production and other behind-the-scenes material. They focus a little too much on meaningless minutiae.

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.