End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones (USA, directors Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia): This was a warts-and-all documentary about one of my favourite bands. And I mean warts-and-all. The lighting, lack of makeup, and extreme closeups (along with this particular screening being a digital blow-up) made everyone look terrible. Johnny Ramone and Seymour Stein (former head of Sire Records) look they have some kind of melanoma, Ed Stasium (producer) was sporting a black eye, and Danny Fields (former manager) looked seriously unwell (jaundice, sores). The only ones who emerge relatively unscathed are Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom, founders of Punk magazine. This seems fitting, since they also appear to have emerged from their punk roots without suffering too much damage.
Since we were viewing a very early print, most of the video clips had not been cleared, and so had timecodes and other stuff overlaid, so that was somewhat annoying. It didn’t feel like a finished film, and the way they shot most of the interviews in extreme closeup was not very flattering to the subjects, most of whom have probably been living hard for going on fifty years.
The film was enlightening in that it broke open many of the reasons why the members of the band generally couldn’t stand each other. Joey comes off best, as the obsessive-compulsive romantic who couldn’t shake his grudge against Johnny for stealing and then marrying the woman he loved. Johnny was (and still is) cruel, demanding, and just mean, but he also was the driving force behind the band’s relentless work ethic. Dee Dee was just loopy insane, but sort of lovable in the way that damaged people are. Original drummer Tommy looks like the record producer he was meant to become, and second drummer Marky looks pretty much like the drummer he’ll always be. One moment of incredulity was when fill-in drummer Richie (from the ’80s) is interviewed in the present wearing a suit and tie! Maybe he sells insurance now.
All in all, only a few bits of new information, and with the downbeat ending (Joey and Dee Dee are no longer with us, nor is Joe Strummer, who was also interviewed in the film, and Johnny seems as unrepentant and nasty as ever), this will definitely drive me back to the records, where The Ramones seem to lose themselves in a more positive energy.
Let me take this opportunity to plug, once again, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s amazing book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. And though I haven’t read it, I’m sure the book Legs co-authored with Dee Dee, Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones, is good as well. Funny, when I read Please Kill Me a few years ago, I remember hearing that it was going to be made into a film. I sure hope this wasn’t it, or I’d really have to say, “please, kill me.”