Thursday, September 02, 2004

End of the Century

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (preview)

Aw, geez. I hate when the people responsible for me going to a movie free or early (or, in this case, both) come out and expect me to evangelize. "If we don't get people to come this weekend, then this movie will only play Boston for a week." The thing is, when it comes to the Ramones documentary End of the Century, I'm more or less okay with that, but I certainly don't want to cause a short run for something others might like.

The "rock doc" genre as a whole inspires a sort of fickleness. Certainly, any documentary is going to split the audience in terms of pre-existing interest in the subject, I'm not a particular fan of this band's music, so I'm looking for a uniquely interesting storyline, or to be bowled over. And End of the Century didn't do that for me.

I'm not sure whether I failed to connect with this movie because of the subjects or the work of co-director/producer/editor/cinematographers Jim Fields and John Gramaglia. On the one hand, they seem to assume a certain amount of musical knowledge from their audience - that when the subjects mention the New York Dolls or the Stooges, we'll know who they are. I admit, I thought they were talking about a group of slapstick comedians when the first Ramone talked about liking the Stooges. And yet, it seems like there's not a whole lot of inside information offered. The filmmakers happily dance around the the animosity between Joey and Johnny, and don't even give any screen time to the woman who came between them.

And then there's the issue of doing a movie about the Ramones. Okay, they made some catchy pop/punk songs, but when they start to talk (or when you see the quotes from the late Jeffrey "Joey Ramone" Hyman), what becomes clear is that these guys are the model for Spinal Tap. They really don't seem that bright, and they don't seem that talented: Many jokes are made about their musical talent, but it's not balanced with showing us why and how these guys were, actually, good.

There's some amusement to be had watching Dee Dee pontificate, because he seemed to have an Ozzy Osbourne thing going on, and then the movie reminds you that he died of a heroin overdose, and it's suddenly not funny. Joey died of cancer in 2001, so there's not much footage of him. Johnny is articulate, but hostile, and the other band members seem somewhat peripheral to the story of the band. It feels like we're not getting into their heads, although there may not be much in there to see.

So the end result is a movie about a group of guys of limited abilities who do pretty good, but never grab the world - or the audience - the way the movie feels that they should. Which might be a fair assessment, but doesn't make for the most exciting of movies.

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