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In 1974, the New York City music scene was shocked into consciousness by the violently new and raw sound of a band of misfits from Queens, called The Ramones. Playing in a seedy Bowery bar to a small group of fellow struggling musicians, the band struck a chord of disharmony that rocked the foundation of the mid-'70s music scene. This quartet of unlikely rock stars traveled across the country and around the world connecting with the disenfranchised everywhere, while sparking a movement that would resonate with two generations of outcasts across the globe. Although the band never reached the top of the Billboard charts, it managed to endure by maintaining a rigorous touring schedule for 22 years. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
If I'm running things like a sergeant in the army or something like that, maybe not everyone can handle that. But you need someone to make the decisions. Someone's gotta do something, otherwise you just flounder around, you know.
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I've been a Ramones fan since the release of their first album. The first song I learned to play in 1978 when I joined my first decent punk band was "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue". But I've never been the kind of fan who felt the need to know a great deal more about the bands I loved. With most of the Ramones gone, and knowing that this documentary had been well received, I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with these old friends of my youth.
Obsessive troubled shy liberal giant Joey. Laid-back easy-going drug addict Dee Dee. Angry driven tough guy neocon Johnny. Alcoholic Marky. Intelligent and over-sensitive Tommy. The core members of the Ramones could not have been more different people. To create a sense of unity, they cultivated a trademark look and gave themselves the surname Ramone. Then, in 1975, they basically invented American punk and inspired a whole generation of DIY rock and rollers. For the next 20 years, this disparate group would behave more or less as if they really were a band of brothers.
All five of the core members, and even CJ and Ricky, speak very openly about the band and their frustrations with the U.S. music industry, and there is plenty of music, including some rare early live stuff, to keep the film rolling. In addition to what the Ramones say about themselves, the film offers a very strong vision of the personalities that drove the band. Johnny comes across as honest, incredibly forceful and domineering - and the sheer volume of words he presents could leave you with the impression that he dominates the film. He does not. Dee Dee, who did not even stay with the band through the 1990s, got equal time. And even Tommy, the often absent founding drummer and later producer, might have been given equal time. Joey - never a great talker - is so quiet off-stage that he will leave you wishing for more.
This retrospective documentary is not an expose, but rather a respectful tribute. Framed around the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the film spends a great deal of time discussing the band's failure (in their own eyes at least) to achieve commercial success in the U.S.A. As somebody who was involved in Punk Rock from its beginnings in the U.S., I found this surprising. After all, the Ramones had more commercial success than virtually any American punk band of their generation, and, long before they broke up, achieved the status of a legend. If anything, this more-or-less constant theme is the most monotonous aspect of the film.
The documentary is good and very much worth watching for Ramones fans. The directing, editing and cinematography are not particularly innovative, but they get the story across in a straight-forward way. The Ramones were never boring, but this documentary, at times, gets pretty close.
Highly recommended for Ramones fans. Others may wish to avoid.
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