In my day, you had to visit a dozen Blockbusters to find a ratty copy of The Decline of Western Civilization. Now the story of Darby Crash and the Germs has been pruned into the same formulaic Great Man narrative you'd expect to see applied to, say, Babe Ruth. Crash, the frontman of one of SoCal's more enduring punk acts, was a self-immolating, conflicted queer in a scene whose attitude toward the gay stuff was ambivalent at best. In his book Enter Naomi, author Joe Carducci was clearly talking about the Germs clique when he wrote that Hollywood rock's tone "was set by showbiz pedophiles grabbing after faghags-in-denial chasing reluctant homosexuals back into the closet"—an analysis about a zillion times smarter than Secret's treatment. Combining the stereotypes of a hundred indie coming-out dramas with an insight into intra-band politics worthy of a VH1 pundit, first-time writer/director Rodger Grossman's version of the Germs' story, with Crash played by Shane West, sounds almost verbatim like the far superior 2002 oral history Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs. The worst kind of bastard adaptation, Secret subtracts without adding: What's not onscreen is the covert thrill of teenage self-invention that kept Germs armbands circulating on a generation of weird kids despite media indifference and cultural amnesia—which is much of the reason that Crash's story bears telling.
West does his best with an unreliable legend.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Oct. 10–Thurs., Oct. 16. Rated R. 94 minutes.