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Ramones Doc On the Way

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“Rights? What are rights? Um, I think we have them.”

Despite or because of this level of naive idealism, a documentary about the Ramones may finally come out this summer:

    OVER the last 15 months, “End of the Century,” a documentary about punk rock’s founding fathers, the Ramones, has been shown at major film festivals in New York, Toronto and Berlin. It has attracted a following among influential figures like Nicolas Cage and the director Jim Jarmusch. It has been praised in Variety, Entertainment Weekly and The Los Angeles Times for its unflinching portrayal of the dysfunction that both fueled and undermined the Ramones.

    ….The filmmakers, Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields, say the movie has not been released after nearly seven years of work because of the very same tenuous relationships they hoped to document.

    With their super-fast, two-minute, three-chord songs, the Ramones almost single-handedly created punk rock in the mid-70’s, inspiring bands from the Clash to U2 to Pearl Jam along the way. But while the Ramones presented a united front on their album covers — black leather jackets, canvas Converse sneakers and bowl haircuts — the band was fraught with tension and jealousy among its members. Johnny Ramone, the guitarist, ran the band like a dictator. Dee Dee Ramone, the bassist, was a heroin addict (he died of an overdose in 2002). A cast of drummers came and went because they were either too drunk, too opposed to constant touring or too upset over not getting a larger share of the money from T-shirt sales. And Joey Ramone, the singer, was dumped by his fiancée, Linda, for Johnny in the early 80’s. Joey and Johnny did not talk to each other during the 15 more years the Ramones toured until they retired in 1996. Joey and Johnny, in fact, never reconciled before Joey died of lymphatic cancer in April 2001.

    ….When Mr. Fields and Mr. Gramaglia, now both 40, began the project in 1998, they were novice filmmakers, full of passion and completely lacking in any real sense of how to make a movie. They had met in 1980 at Mamaroneck High School in Westchester County and bonded over cars and the music they both loved — outcast rock like the Buzzcocks, Clash and, of course, the Ramones.

    When he proposed making the documentary, Mr. Gramaglia was an assistant to Ira Herzog, the Ramones’ longtime accountant. “All along,” Mr. Fields said, “Joey was afraid it was going to be a movie about Johnny’s perspective, and Johnny was afraid it would be a movie about Joey’s perspective.”

    But Joey died before the filmmakers could interview him. “He e-mailed me on New Year’s Eve and said he was looking forward to a three-hour therapy session,” Mr. Gramaglia said. The next day, Joey walked out of his East Village apartment, slipped on some ice and broke his hip. His cancer killed him before he could leave the hospital.

    Instead, Mr. Gramaglia and Mr. Fields used audio recordings of Joey that they obtained from Donna Gaines, a reporter for The Village Voice. The filmmakers submitted a rough cut of the movie to the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah. It was accepted and shown for the first time publicly at the festival in January 2003.

    Even when the movie was shown at Slamdance, the filmmakers had not obtained permission to use archival concert footage and music from the Ramones and other bands. They had also never gotten the Ramones to sign releases for their interviews, which took more than three years to conduct. Now Dave Frey, the manager who represents Joey’s half of Ramones Productions Inc., and Mickey Leigh, Joey’s brother, say they will withhold their approval until the movie contains more Joey. “He’s totally absent,” Mr. Frey said. “Why not take out the three minutes of Joey and call it `End of the Century, the Story of Three Ramones’?”

    The film’s release has been further complicated by the filmmakers’ financial situation. By the time the film was presented at Slamdance, Mr. Gramaglia and his brother, John, a producer, had amassed a debt of about $65,000 in production expenses. They owed Chinagraph, an editing house, another $150,000 and they estimated they would have to spend several hundred thousand dollars more to secure the rights to music and concert footage.

    ….”The first night I watched it,” Johnny Ramone said, “I thought, `Whoa, this is dark.’ It actually disturbed my sleep. If someone asked, `Did you guys get along?’ I’d say no. But seeing a whole movie dedicated to our not getting along? It’s like we were a bunch of nuts!”

    Later he showed the film to one of his friends, Mr. Cage. (Johnny was the best man at Mr. Cage’s wedding to Lisa Marie Presley). He in turn set up a screening at the offices of the Creative Artists Agency in Beverly Hills last May. The screening was attended by film and music industry luminaries including Sofia Coppola, Adrien Brody, Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “The Ramones were a relentlessly honest band,” Mr. Cage said in an e-mail message from Chicago, where he’s working on a new film. “I think this documentary shows just how honest.”

    Today, Mr. Gramaglia and Mr. Fields are working to find more footage of Joey Ramone to add to the movie and to secure distribution deals to cover their expenses. The filmmakers say they are negotiating with the Warner Music Group for the DVD rights and with Magnolia Pictures for a theatrical release of the movie. The filmmakers are optimistic that the film will come out this summer. [NY Times]

It’s remarkable and tragic that Johnny and Joey could play together for 16 years – and that Joey could flipping die – without them ever reconciling. How stubborn and bitter can you be?

The annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash is coming up – Johnny won’t be there.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Well that Dee Dee was the moderator, and he also died.

    The worst part about this is that the filmakers didn’t clear the releases or the music.

  • Roxy

    It really made me sad when I herd that Linda left Joey for Johnny. But JOhnny is real a dick 4 steeling Joey’s gal away!!!!!