End Of The Century – The Ramones

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End Of The Century – The Ramones

"End of the Century" is a labour of love by the co-directors Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia about one of THE most influential bands of the last 30 years. The film tells the full story of the group's long and tumultuous history. 8 years in the making, there were times when it appeared that the film would never see the light of day due to the commercial apathy that always dogged the band in their lifetime. Eventually it got a national release in the US in August 2004. The death of Johnny Ramone a few weeks later on September 15th ironically gave the film more publicity at the time of its release than it would probably have received under more usual circumstances.

The film is not a lightweight introduction to the band for anyone who has just discovered the Ramones. It's a pretty heavy, warts and all portrayal of the band's life story - the dysfunctional family that was the Ramones, several of whom were barely even talking to each other for the last 11 of the 22 years they were together. To quote Johnny Ramone "It's a very dark movie. It's accurate. It left me disturbed". The film does stand in it's own right as a well made, fascinating film of a band that has now posthumously become part of American popular culture with their eagle logo t-shirts to be found in stores like Urban Outfitters and their songs, like Blitzkrieg Bop, regularly ringing out at baseball parks and used on tv commercials.

Starting with the band's childhood growing up in Forest Hills, Queens, influenced as kids by Elvis, the Stones, T Rex through to the Stooges and the New York Dolls, they formed the band in 1974. Right from their early days playing at CBGBs they were loved by true fans of live music. In a great many ways what they really were was a fun pop band with enormous commercial potential who accidentally happened to spark off the punk revolution. However the press and radio, especially in the US, were afraid of the band. They were "too far ahead of their time, too unique" - Tommy Ramone. The film makes it clear that the band always had to fight, always had to struggle against the odds.

By July 1976 fortunately they were being discovered outside of New York, especially in London where they were a major influence on the newly formed punk bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Damned. The film features some great interview footage with Joe Strummer and Captain Sensible recalling the Ramones early UK shows and the impact they had on their impressionable bands.

The film makes it obvious that the band members had ambitions to be stars but that their characters just didn't help this to become a reality. Dee Dee especially comes across as a lovable but very difficult misfit with their first manager Danny Fields, even 25 years later, clearly remembering vividly the pain and anguish of managing such disparate characters. By the late 1980s the band had largely resigned themselves to being a well respected cult band in their home country playing club size "jobs", as Johnny Ramone referred to their live shows, whilst simultaneously headlining and selling out large arenas in countries where they were enormously popular like Argentina, Mexico and Spain.

I finished viewing the film feeling on one hand exhilarated that someone had had the foresight to make it at a time when the main characters were still alive to fully participate in the interviews and help supply the great live footage and other material used, but also saddened that the band never received the acclaim that they truly deserved during the life times of the bands main members. "End of the Century" will undoubtedly stand as their testimonial.

The UK dvd release includes many additional interviews that are well worth viewing. It also has an amusing and exclusive to the UK voice over commentary from Danny Baker and Charles Shaar Murray - both ex NME journalists of the mid to late 1970s period who saw the band in their very early days. Clearly big fans of the band they make some interesting comments and have some funny anecdotes. Murray was the first British journalist to review the band (as early as 1975) and Baker co-launched the London punk fanzine "Sniffin' Glue" inspired by the song of the same name on the band's debut album. They reverentially poke fun at the band members and talk about the band being the reverse of Spinal Tap - the drummers live and everyone else dies!

So, if you're a hard core Ramones fan you HAVE to own this dvd. If you're simply looking for an introduction to the band and their music though you'd be better buying one of their numerous compilation cds as this film is not for the faint hearted.

Martin Percival – tMx 20 – 07/05
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