I doubt that many of you have heard of Danny Fields— neither had I. In watching this documentary about him, I learned that he played a major and pivotal role in rock ‘n’ roll of the late 20th century. He worked with the Doors, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins and managed groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, MC5, and the Ramones. He was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory. Danny was a Phi Beta Kappa kid who dropped out of Harvard Law and became a Warhol confidant, Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, punk pioneer and so much more. Danny’s opinions were once defiant and radical and actually turned out to have been prescient. “Danny Says” is a story of marginal person becoming mainstream and avant garde turning prophetic.
I would not say that this is a unique documentary but I will loudly say that the subject of the film is unique in many ways. Danny Fields was a regular fixture in the sixties rock scene and during the transition between the late sixties and early seventies, he became involved in a new rock movement that would make its indelible mark on the music world–Punk. He used his flamboyant and brash personality to promote and mentor artists who became legendary.
Brendan Toller’s film uses interviews, archive footage, and animation to tell Danny’s story. Toller obviously has much love for his subject and this labor of love is a loving tribute to Danny Fields. The film is a fascinating portrait of a truly remarkable man. This is a film that took 5 1/2 years to make. Interviews with 60 people shaped Danny in a real and round way. Danny’s life was filled with many important people and the list of his friends sounds like a who’s-who list of the music world. That such a figure who was so well known in the music industry, could live behind the scenes forever is unheard of.
The film opens with some rapid-fire interviews from music legends such as Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper who give quick insights about who Fields was. After the titles roll, we, the viewers are introduced to Danny who tells about his early years and up through college and Harvard Law, where he eventually dropped out and moved to New York. He was in his twenties when in New York and it was then he discovered his sexuality. He began working as a writer and editor, finding an in into the rock world through his pre-established channels and listening for the next big thing in music. He worked for a long time at Elektra Records that brought him to the Doors and he signed such artists as MC5 and The Stooges (Iggy Pop). After being fired from Elektra he became the manager for the Ramones.
This is not only a film about Danny Fields but it is also about the music industry. It is then that we hear stories about Jim Morrison, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, MC5, and the somewhat insane Iggy Pop. He stories are fun and fascination but they have very little to do with Fields other than the fact that he was there, trying his best to make records sell and prevent everyone from overdosing.
There is really no narrative that connects everything together and this hurts the film which does not have any structure. This does not mean that it is not a good film. Just listening to Danny talk about his life is enough to make us enjoy the entire viewing experience. We just remain unsure as to what this film is about.
And these stories never quite add up to any sort of overarching narrative. Things, for the most part, seem to unravel chronologically, moving ever forward through the ups and downs, with no real structure in sight.
“Danny Says” is by no means a bad film. Fields himself is hilarious throughout as he talks about his roles in some of the biggest moments in music history. It is filled with hilarious stories about the heyday of rock and roll and it highlights the importance of the guy who is in the back of every photo.