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End of the Century | The Story of the Ramones | review | dvd | Lollipop
End of the Century
The Story of the Ramones (Rhino)
by Brian Varney
After the relatively subpar collection that was the Ramones Raw DVD, the proper documentary, End of the Century, comes as a welcome revelation. Unlike that seemingly random selection of unrelated live clips, End of the Century seeks to tell the band's story. We begin by meeting the band members as young men, their Ramones personalities already in place - Johnny as uptight asshole, Dee Dee as drug-addled fuck-up, Tommy as older, aloof outsider, and Joey as awkward outcast. Through interviews with family, neighbors, and the band members, we get a sense of these four young men and the urges that drove them to form what ultimately became the greatest and most enduring band to spring from the NYC/CBGB scene.
We then see the band form and begin to take shape through some blistering vintage footage and more interviews with not only the band members but important figures such as Danny Fields (the band's always-entertaining first manager), Seymour Stein from Sire Records, Legs McNeil, John Holstrom from Punk magazine, and musicians like Joe Strummer, Debbie Harry, and Chris Stein.
The story that emerges, like that of so many stories told in such documentaries, is of a great rock and roll band riddled with personality conflicts. The biggest, and ultimately most damaging rift is between Joey and Johnny. Although the two apparently never got along, things begin to strain when Joey, thanks to the adulation he receives as a result of being a singer in a band, begins to assert himself more, which doesn't sit well with Johnny's view of himself as the band's sole leader. However, when one of Joey's girlfriends leaves him for Johnny (whom she eventually marries), the damage is done, and the two more or less do not speak for the remainder of the band's career. This incident happens in the early '80s, so we're talking about a long, frosty silence.
Luckily, however, the producers of End of the Century do not wish to make this film into an episode of Behind the Music, so while this animosity is certainly mentioned, it's not made the center of the film. The film's ultimate focus is on the good things, whether it's showing us just what a breath of fresh air the band was, even when forming in the wake of such revered bands as Television and the New York Dolls, or how much of a positive impact they had not only on music and other bands, but on the fans as well. Danny Fields is particularly eloquent on this subject when he mentions the "legacy of bands" the Ramones left in their wake on early tours as well as the fact that Joey Ramone, in all his awkward geekiness, provided a great rush of confidence to underconfident audience members as well.
Unless you're a huge Ramones know-it-all, you'll probably leave End of the Century knowing quite a bit more about the band. And even if you already know all this shit, End of the Century is well done enough that it'll still entertain you.