You don’t have to know or even like The Ramones to enjoy this documentary, airing Tuesday and Saturday on PBS, which follows over thirty years the group that blazed a punk trail in the early to mid 1970s. You don’t even have to like punk. Or rock. Or music (ok, that might be stretching it.)
This is one of those nonfiction pieces that make you wonder how the folks behind the camera got so lucky; their footage fit so neatly into the classic “arch” that Hollywood screenwriters consider a staple, and had some romance, family tension, and heartbreak to boot. Or it makes you scratch your head wondering how many other documentary filmmakers have to scrap their footage when they realize there’s no story here.
Joey, Johnny, DeeDee and the rotating Ramone #4 came onto the scene when there was a real hunger for some pep, some energy, in a corner of New York known as CBGB’s with a $1 cover charge. In a time dominated by lethargic folk rock, when in the words of one character, “you couldn’t get laid unless you gave them some rap about macrame,” this angry pop style that came to be known as punk was right on time, though it took a while to catch on. And took thirty years to be recognized.
When the credits roll it’s questionable whether this was a movie about music or culture, families or politics. This is a movie that illustrates George Lakoff’s strict father model (read: Johnny) vs. caring nurturer (Joey) model and how they balance each other out, and where the fringe anarchists (DeeDee) fit in to it all. It’s a film about a tenacious, even puritan work ethic. It’s a film about a lot of things, under the guise of a biopic about four black-haired misfits who the world barely knows by name, but is quite familiar with what change they wrought.