rock music especially, not only defines each new generation,
it ultimately becomes owned by it. It's something the youth of the time have
that links them to their peers and distances them from
their parents, who are just unable to understand or connect
with it. Or at least that's the theory. As someone who
embraces change and the shock of the new, I've yet to
reach that point where I spout the phrase that defines
me as an oldie, "It's just not music, is it,"
and yet I still have a strong affection for the songs that
helped shape my own youth. Given the preceding argument,
I'm always somewhat surprised, and more than a little
pleased, when younger friends discover this music for
themselves and celebrate it. There's an ego thing at work
here, of course, as those who own the music of now acknowledge
– and by association validate – my own musical taste,
in the process creating common ground in an area that
is notoriously divisive.
years ago a friend half my age announced that he'd discovered
this amazing group that none of his younger friends seemed to
have heard of and wondered if I was aware of them.
I most definitely was. The band in question was The Ramones,
and having listened to their music my friend could not
for the life of him understand why they were not up there
with the greats and why their early albums were impossible
to find on CD. Ah, therein lies a story...
up this mystery is one of the tasks the documentary End
of the Century: The Story of the Ramones sets
itself. The Ramones, for those who do not know, were innovators,
kicking against the bland pop and ten-minute guitar and keyboard solos of
their mainstream contemporaries with their short tracks, simple
but punchy lyrics, belting pace and aggressive guitar
work, which proved one of the key inspirations for the punk
rock movement that was shortly to explode. But despite
the high regard in which they were held by the British
musical press and the likes of The Clash and The Sex Pistols,
mainstream success and widespread recognition eluded the
band throughout their career. They were, in the words
of rock journalist Charles Shaar Murray (see the extra
features below), "the right group in the wrong dimension."
As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this was partly
a matter of location – while they were able to fill sizeable
venues in the UK, back home in New York they were still
working small clubs to a cult audience. The irony is that,
having kick-started the punk rock movement, the group
found themselves damned by association with it. Just as
their song Sheena is a Punk Rocker looked set
to become a hit, press stories began appearing linking
the very word 'punk' with everything middle America regarded
as rotten about rock music in general and the record
effectively disappeared from the airwaves. Their story
boasts several such examples of bad luck or timing, all
of which conspired to deny the group the mainstream success
for which they were searching.
for fans of The Ramones and their music, End of
the Century has is share of surprises, chief
amongst them being the diversity of political opinion
in the group (singer Joey would speak at protest rallies,
much to the chagrin of lead guitarist Johnny, a lifelong
Republican who pays public tribute to George Bush at the
film's end) and the level of control Johnny exercised
over the others. He ran the show like a drill sergeant
in charge of his troops, in the process casting himself
as gruff and unfriendly, especially in comparison to enigmatic
Joey and cheery, drug-addicted Dee-Dee. If the film is
any evidence then he did little to alter this self-image over the years,
his interviews here showcasing him as humourless
and dourly matter-of-fact, though it's hard not to warm
to someone who said of legendary producer Phil Spector,
"So he had a few hits in the sixties, what has he
done lately?" With Joey hidden behind the long hair and dark classes of his stage persona,
it's left to Dee Dee to provide the entertainment value,
even if his past (and, as it turns out, more recent) addictions
have left him not the sharpest twig on the tree.
like four years in the making, the film's structure is
a little ramshackle in places. Interviews have been conducted
on what looks like a variety of media and some of them
have been broken up by time and location, signified by
clothing changes, the coming and going of sunglasses and some
stark shifts in picture quality, sometimes from shot to
shot. Little information is supplied on the personal lives
of the group or the process of creating the music for
which they were known, and the story itself, a series
of disappointments, luckless decisions and anticlimaxes,
inevitably lacks that triumphant, breakthrough moment
that rise-to-fame tales trade on. Even their long overdue
entry to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame came too
late for Joey, who by then had died of cancer, soon to
be followed by Dee Dee (heroin overdose) and Johnny (also
of which highlights a downside of rock 'n' roll longevity
and reaching an age where your musical heroes start dying
on you, sometimes at a ludicrously young age. I mean,
Johnny Ramone was 55, for fuck's sake, Joey just 49. What
age is that for anyone, rock icon or otherwise, to die?
It almost makes it worse that both were from 'natural
causes', not drug or booze related, which at least you
could blame on the man and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
In that context, at least Dee Dee's passing makes some
sort of twisted sense.
But for Ramones fans the film's flaws are largely forgivable
and its technical scruffiness almost appropriate to the
subject matter, and there's a real prize in the shape of the archive
footage of the band in performance, including some very
early stuff at CBGB's, the New York club at which they
first made their name. Seeing and hearing them in full
flow, an explosion of vibrant musical energy, serves as
a timely reminder of their talent, their influence, and
their crucial role in the development of rock 'n' roll.
Gabba Gabba Hey!
I rarely comment on this aspect of a DVD (I bought it
to watch the film not look at the case), but every now
and then I pull an ordered DVD out of its jiffy bag and
let forth a small, schoolgirl-like squeal of delight.
OK, this is not up there with the region 1 editions of Memento or Se7en, but
is still nicely enough done to make me suspect that there
are some Ramones fans working in Tartan's art department.
Packaged in the usual snap case, this is housed in a cardboard
sleeve with a leather jacket look and a zipper design
where the box halves separate. Additionally, attached
to the included booklet, are two Ramones badges, neither
of which I have chosen to pin on the leather biker's jacket
I don't actually own.
this is a hard one to easily judge. As mentioned above,
End of the Century has been constructed
from material shot on and sourced from a wide variety of
media, ranging from what appears to be high-end video for
a couple of the interviews to fuzzy sub-VHS black-and-white
for the early performance footage. The tell-tale signs of
DV are evident in interviews where video noise and highlight
burn-out are very visible, and some of the graphics betray
their desktop video origins. If the high-end DV and photos
are anything to go by, this is about as decent a transfer
as you're going to find – contrast, colour and (where possible)
detail are fine, and though there are some compression artefacts
they are largely restricted to the grubbier source material
and interview shot low-band. The box says the picture is
anamorphic 1.85:1, but in truth it tends to vary a little,
depending on the material, but this won't be noticeable
on CRT TVs. Some of the more aggressive framing suggests
a project started with 4:3 as the original intended aspect
are three soundtracks, Dolby stereo 2.0, surround 5.1 and
DTS 5.1. The 5.1 and DTS tracks inevitably have greater
punch and finesse and are more inclusive than the stereo
track, but there's little to choose between these two. OK,
the DTS track JUST has the edge. Just. But then I like my
Ramones LOUD. The sourced music sounds great throughout.
we have a series of 9 short interviews
with the main participants, essentially footage not used
in the film, none more than 7 minutes in length but all
of real interest, especially the radio studio one with Joey,
who is a little more relaxed here than in the in-film interviews.
All except Joey's are framed 4:3, and the inclusion of part
of the big-close-up interview with Johnny does tend to confirm
my earlier suspicions about the original intended aspect
up is a commentary track by Charles
Shaar Murray and Danny Baker. Now some younger readers may
be doing a double-take there – Danny Baker, that cheery
but sometimes annoying bloke who DJ's on BBC Radio London?
The very same. But once upon a time Mr. Baker was at the
cutting edge of music journalism, writing with Murray for
the NME under the banner of The News Brothers, having begun
his career with the influential punk magazine Sniffin'
Glue. I was a little apprehensive about this commentary,
but within minutes I was hooked. Both Murray and Baker remain
huge fans of the band and the commentary is loaded with
anecdotes of their early exposure to them (via the CBGB's
appearances and bootleg records), also throwing in an amusing
story about Sid Vicious demanding money and suffering the
consequences. They react directly to much of the on-screen
activity, groaning at the extracts from Rock
'n' Roll High School and casting doubt on the authenticity
of some of the rock fables. Baker had clearly seen the film before
recording the commentary, whereas this seems to be Murray's
first exposure to it. There appear to have been a couple
of censorous cuts made here, the most obvious one signified
when Baker says, "Can I just say this. By all means
you can edit this out..." followed by three minutes
of silence, and these two rarely pause for a second. Otherwise,
this is an enormously entertaining and informative listen
and a fine companion to the film.
scene (Clem Burke as Elvis Ramone)
(1:32) contains only about 1 minute of deleted footage,
and is focussed around the BCU interview with Johnny. It's
Wrote What on the First Three Albums
(4:18) is effectively another deleted scene in which Tommy
Ramone outlines...well, can you guess? It does help to clarify
an area only touched on in the film proper.
Original Theatrical Trailer (0:53)
is non-anamorphic 16:9 and a pretty good sell.
included booklet contains a nicely
scribed appreciation of the band titled We Are All Ramones!
by Pierre Perrone.
don't count Tartan's usual trailer reel as an extra,
but I do the two aforementioned badges.
I just need that jacket now.
it's been a long time coming but it's nice to see the Ramones
getting the sort of cinematic appreciation often reserved
for those who have made the financial big time, a status
that repeatedly alluded a band that for many of us were
always better than the rock dinosaurs they energetically
reacted against. If the film is a little rough around the
edges then it's still welcome, and Tartan have showcased
it well, or as well as the sorce imagery will allow. As
Charles Shaar Murray suggests at the end of the commentary:
"Now go play some Ramones records!"