In the mid 1970s, a bunch of outcasts from the New York borough of Queens severely and irreverently altered the course of pop culture with their amateur, genius bubblegum rock ‘n’ roll. Calling themselves The Ramones, they helped to kick-start the very concept of punk rock, proving beyond question it’s possible to play timeless, catchy songs without being instrumental virtuosos.
Though they changed the way the world thinks about and creates music, The Ramones remained an underground phenomenon for their entire decades-long career.
The Ramones as People, Not Stars
Assuming some familiarity from their viewers with the story of The Ramones, filmmakers Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields leave out dry facts, opting instead to dig into the juicier human side of things. They provide a glimpse into the complex, dynamic relationships between the individual Ramones that aren’t readily apparent through the band’s sweet, simple pop songs.
The History of a Punk Band
End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones, the first feature film from Gramaglia and Fields, opens with the first shred of concrete recognition the group received for their immense contributions to music as we know it, The Ramones’ 2002 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The film follows Johnny, Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee from their humble beginnings as youths in the Forest Hills neighborhood, fans of the Stooges and New York Dolls who formed a band of their own and went on to become central players in the developing New York punk scene centered around now-infamous Bowery club CBGB.
It examines the recording of a slew of albums (including an eventful Phil Spector production), vocalist Joey’s desperately optimistic struggle to create a hit record and the numerous lineup changes in the band’s later years. Bassist Dee Dee’s tumultuous, violent relationship with his girlfriend Connie is highlighted, as is the shockingly deep rift over a girl between Joey and guitarist Johnny that not even death could heal. The movie closes with a return to that long deserved moment of public appreciation for the achievements of The Ramones.
Rare Concert Footage and Interviews
In between, the audience is treated to incredible live footage of the band’s early days and even a dose of Dee Dee’s hilariously misguided foray into rap music as Dee Dee King. Footage of scene contemporaries is included alongside candid interviews with band members as well as those close to them.
They include Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Arturo Vega, Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil, and doorgirl-cum-photographer Roberta Bayley. Archive footage of Joey, who succumbed to cancer before his interviews for the film could even begin, displays his endearingly shy, sweet, innocent smile.
Conversations with the surviving Ramones reveal Dee Dee as a captivating weirdo through his junkie eccentricity and show Johnny to be the abrasive, right wing, bullheaded man he is notorious as being. Tommy, who got out early, appears to be the only original Ramone to have emerged utterly unscathed. Additional interviews with Marky, CJ and Ritchie detail the later comers’ experiences trying to make sense of the band.
End of a Punk Rock Era
With the deaths of the three central Ramones occurring unexpectedly early and close together – Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone died of cancer in 2001 and 2004 respectively, while Dee Dee Ramone overdosed in 2002 – their story is disturbingly bittersweet.
Through 30 years wrought with immeasurable stress and conflict, The Ramones as a unit somehow maintained a transcendent brotherhood, and End of the Century offers a fascinating look at these infamous musicians as human beings, far deeper than previously revealed through three chords, 18 albums and a lasting musical revelation.
- Ramones Film Review: End of the Century - June 11, 2018
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