The End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones is a 2003 documentary film by Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields about the seminal punk band The Ramones. It's named after the song "End of the Century" on the 1980 Ramones album of the same title, but this writeup is not about either of those, which I'll leave for some other, more dedicated noder to write up (hint, hint!)
The movie begins and ends with the group's 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In between it tells their story in more or less chronological order, starting with their teenage years in Forest Hills, Queens, New York. To paraphrase the late Douglas Colvin and John Cumming, better known as Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Ramone, when you're the only guys in Forest Hills who like The Stooges, you sort of have to be friends. (Other early influences on the Ramones included the New York Dolls, MC5, and the fact that most mainstream rock at the time was both boring and pretentious; as The Onion's Keith Phipps noted in his review of End of the Century, "Few eras needed two-minute songs about pinheads and glue-sniffing quite so desperately.") Together with Jeffrey Hyman, best known as Joey Ramone, the three formed the backbone of the band: Johnny on guitar, Dee Dee on bass, and Joey as one of the most freakishly fascinating lead vocalists in the history of music, emphasis on freaky. Picture the bastard love child of Howard Stern, John Lennon, and some kind of crazy scrawny eight-foot tall mutant geek from outer space, and you're starting to get the idea of the impression he makes. He is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. (One thing I didn't know before seeing this movie was that Joey was severely obsessive-compulsive, to the point where he probably couldn't have functioned in normal society, except that he became a rock star, and fortunately, rock stars don't have to function in normal society like us lesser mortals.) The band went through a series of drummers in their 21 years together, but that history is already documented on E2 at The Ramones, so I won't repeat the summary here.
The End of the Century is a pretty standard documentary, composed of interviews with the band members (the filmmakers were lucky enough to get footage of the late Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny before their deaths in 2001, 2002, and 2004 respectively), their friends and family, as well as archival film and photographs. Highlights include lots of concert video, including an especially hilarious clip of the band arguing about their set list, which is probably reason enough to see this movie if you're a Ramones fan. There's also interviews with other artists influenced by the Ramones, although not nearly all of them --- you get the impression that maybe the Ramones weren't so hugely successful that everybody saw them, but everybody who saw them wanted to start a band, and lots of people who saw them actually did (Deborah Harry/Blondie, David Byrne/Talking Heads, Black Flag, and Minor Threat are a few I can remember right off the top of my head). There's segments from an interview with the late Joe Strummer of The Clash about the Ramones' 1976 tour in England, which influenced not just The Clash but of course The Sex Pistols and the great "who and what is punk rock, who started it and where and why and whatever" debates. A hilarious note on the official End of the Century website snarks:
One piece of music that’s missing is “Anarchy In the UK” by the Sex Pistols. Unfortunately, they didn’t grant us permission to use their punk anthem because we were saying negative things about the Sex Pistols; in other words, we were exposing the truth that they DID NOT start punk rock. That seems to have hurt their feelings. We’re so sorry Mr. Rotten. We hope you’re not losing sleep.
What else can I say? The filmmakers are clearly fans, but that doesn't stop them from showing the ugly side of their subjects from time to time. We learn about the personality conflicts that seem to be at the heart of every group artistic endeavor: in this case it was Joey versus Johnny, and at times it got really personal. Like I mentioned before, Joey comes across as pretty seriously insane, in a hypnotically introverted kind of way. Johnny, on the other hand, comes across as kind of an asshole. Dee Dee was probably my favorite Ramone to watch, because let's face it, the guy was punk as shit like a motherfucker, and his interviews in End of the Century range from flaky to hilarious all the way to tragic.
The End of the Century soundtrack is, of course, fantastic, and is still caught in my head days after I saw the movie. A full listing of songs that appear in the film is available at the official movie website, http://www.endofthecentury.com. Speaking of which, besides my 5 February 2005 viewing of the movie, I based this writeup on the following
http://www.theonionavclub.com/review.php?review_id=7730 (The Onion's review, one of the best I've read)
http://www.endofthecentury.com (official movie site)
http://www.ramones.com (official Ramones site)
For those of you in the U.S., End of the Century will be airing on the PBS show Independent Lens on April 26, 2005. If you can't wait that long and/or like your special features and don't mind buying your media, the DVD/VHS release is scheduled for March 15, 2005.
The End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones 2003, Magnolia Films. I saw it at a midnight showing at the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Oregon on 5 February 2005.