END OF THE CENTURY An honest look at the underrated Ramones.
End of the Century
dirs. Fields & Gramaglia
Opens Fri Dec 3
Cinema 21

Unlike the vast majority of their ilk, the bookends of the Ramones' career are a little difficult to specifically define. Contractually speaking, the Ramones lasted from their ramshackle formation in 1974 to their collective retirement in 1996. But depending on your personal politics, the Ramones could have any number of expiration dates: the original Ramones were technically over when Tommy left in 1977; the core lineup collapsed when Dee Dee, the band's primary songwriter, left in 1989. The point is, unlike most of their musical peers who had the good sense just to burn out, the Ramones spent about 20 years at a slow fade.

Thus, the task of summarizing the pocketed brilliance of the Ramones with the reverence they so rightly deserve is, at best, a difficult one. Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's new documentary, End of the Century, evenly traces the feats and pratfalls of the band's entire career with admirable honesty--especially considering their largely bleak final decade. The directors tell the Ramones' story through the narrowly captured insights of the original foursome--miraculously filmed just prior to the untimely domino deaths of Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny over the last four years. Wisely relying on heaps of archival footage to set pace, the heart of the film hinges on the band's power plays, familial squabbles, and fruitless pursuit of fame.

Frank and forthcoming, the interviews offer the band a much-needed sense of dimension--something the uniformed caricatures have stripped from them over the years--and paint surprisingly sympathetic portraits of a junk-sick fuck-up, a sensitive obsessive-compulsive, and a tyrannical conservative.

Though largely on target in presentation, End of the Century falters in its intent, as it's clear Fields and Gramaglia aim to elevate the Ramones to a position amongst the criminally overlooked saints of rock's history. Yet over the course of the film's 20-some years, it seems blindingly clear what resolution he should have aimed for: the Ramones were never defined by what they didn't do--they were defined by what they did.