I'm not going to preface this piece by indulging in proclamations of the genius of the Ramones, like so many reviews I've seen written on artists after they've passed on into whatever realm lies outside the physical world. They were just normal kids who decided to start their own band, and it's my job to review this documentary and to dismantle any myths that you may or may not have regarding them.
Part of what makes this documentary disheartening is that it shatters all of the expectations that you have of the four kids from Forest Hills who unknowingly contributed to a musical revolution of sorts in the late 70's. But, that's what makes this documentary so compelling, and exactly the chance that Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia took when making End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, a somewhat uneven, roughly hewn collage of film with occasional moments of insight and perhaps ultimately, the desire for reconciliation amongst the surviving members. But, it only leaves me with the feeling that it was a rush job completed to both profit and gain notoriety from the death of Dee Dee Ramone shortly after the end of filming.
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones begins ordinarily enough with the story of growing up in Forest Hills, casual recollections from old friends and fellow musicians, and a tour of the neighborhood by none other than Tommy Ramone, all instilling what most of us already know: That the environment you grow up in ultimately shapes you and that there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. But, it does shed some light into Joey's daily struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and delves a little deeper into his childhood where he was basically written off as being useless. Other than that, the viewer comes out with no sense of knowing the other members or what may have influenced them to create music.
The majority of the documentary focuses on the silent feud between Joey and Johnny, which centers around Johnny hooking up with an ex of Joey's and later marrying her. As if that isn't idiotic enough, imagine thirty minutes of the same story being rehashed over and over again until you become sedated (to borrow a reference from one of their most popular songs). What I'm saying is that it happens to everyone, it's not scandalous, it's not important, and it's utterly retarded to place so much concentration upon, in what bills itself as a raw, unforgiving portrait of an American band.
However, there are occasional moments of sweetness, such as the extensive interviews with Dee Dee Ramone fondly recollecting his adolescence. Other than that, it only presented me with stuff I already knew. Joey was insecure and passionate. Johnny was a very shrewd businessman who kept everyone in check. Dee Dee liked drugs and tattoos. And Tommy disappeared to become producer, leaving the drumming duties to Marky Ramone. Ultimately, I find myself asking, "What was the point of all of this?"
Now that Joey, Johnny, and Dee are dead, the story will never be told. It will be misconstrued and assembled to convenience for who knows how long, but it will never be factual or completely authentic. The greatest tribute and the greatest story can only be spoken through song. And that's the best thing anyone could ask for.