Burning Down the House is a feature documentary that details the history of the legendary and infamous rock club CBGB and it's founder, Hilly Kristal. Hilly opened CBGB in December of 1973 at 313 Bowery in the heart of 'The Bowery', a stretch of neighborhood in New York's lower east side. The Bowery boasted fifty bars and sixty flophouses and was a den of depravity teeming with drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, and homelessness. Hilly intended the club to serve as a venue for original country, bluegrass and blues music (CBGB: Country BlueGrass Blues). But by 1974 he had exhausted the city's supply of original country and blues acts and decided to expand the club's repertoire to include rock n' roll. He began auditioning local rock acts with only one proviso: Play your own original music. This was unusual in a time where most venues in town were only interested in rock acts that had recording contracts or played covers. Having few other places to play, local bands descended upon the Bowery and began lining up to audition. Eventually acts like Television, The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Cars, and Pattie Smith were working out their material on handfuls of people who comprised a fledging scene that would later give rise to the music phenomena know as 'punk' and 'new wave'.
The film combines archival footage and photographs with contemporary interviews to re-construct the rich history of the club and its evolution as one of the premiere venues in the world of rock. CBGB has hosted such luminary acts as The Police, Guns n' Roses, Green Day, The Beastie Boys, PJ Harvey, and Jon Spencer, too name a few.
Burning Down the House features Patti Smith, Hilly Krystal, Sting, Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Richard Hell, Henry Rollins, Steven Van Zandt, Dicky Barrette (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), Mike Bloomberg, Flavor Flav , Joey Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Marky Ramone, Ice-T, Kurt Loder, Jonathan Demme, Jim Jarmusch, Pete Yorn, Fab Five Freddy, Jane County and The Bad Brains.