One of the most pressing issues for fan-documentarians is how to make a film that appeals to audiences unfamiliar with the subject matter to which the fan-documentarians have devoted themselves. In The Cadillac Tramps: Life on the Edge, first-time director Jamie Sims Coakley opts to appeal to hardcore fans and band acquaintances, but few others. The blues-inflected punk of the Orange County-based Cadillac Tramps never enjoyed the level of success found by the band's contemporaries like No Doubt and Social Distortion, but singer Michael "Gabby" Gaborno dominated their raucous live shows with a blend of punk intensity and disarming humor. Coakley assembles many interview subjects, interspersing the history of the band with scenes of Gaborno's latter-day dialysis treatments, the result of years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Cadillac Tramps is at its best and most poignant when Gaborno and his gaunt, weathered face are in the spotlight. Elsewhere, Coakley devotes too much screen time to people with only tangential connections to the band -- two are merely identified as "Tattoo Artist." Punk scenes have a sense of community that bring together performers and fans, but Coakley finds no compelling way to translate that camaraderie to the screen. There are great stories here, of the beloved band that never quite made it and the singer facing his own mortality, yet they're diluted with countless talking heads that add little. The Cadillac Tramps is a documentary that never quite figures out what its story should be.