Directed by Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields, starring Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Marky Ramone, CJ Ramone and Ritchie Ramone.
Former Black Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio once said that every band needed to be a democracy led by a dictator. If that's the case, then guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) occupied the top spot in the Ramones - and made sure everyone remembered it. You're not likely to forget after seeing this documentary, a touching, loving but often painful look at one of the most influential bands of the last 30 years.
For an outfit whose image and sound has become so associated with togetherness and good times, the Ramones were the complete opposite behind the scenes. Right-wing Johnny ran the band like a business. Left-wing Joey Ramone (Jeff Hyman) never spoke to Johnny again after his girlfriend married the guitarist. Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin) was a heroin addict and after original drummer Tommy (Tom Erdelyi) decided he'd had enough and left, the drum stool revolved a bit. Perhaps all bands are this dysfunctional, but what makes the Ramones' story so poignant is that they never got the success they truly deserved and Tommy is now the only surviving original member. Joey died of lymphatic cancer in 2001, still estranged from Johnny; Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose in 2002 and Johnny died of prostate cancer late last year.
Gramaglia and Fields' film uses the band's 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as its start and end points, and works back through the years that followed their genesis in Forest Hills, New York in the early 1970s. The film is at its best when it focuses on the early years, with the live footage, photos and recollections giving a real sense of history in the making. It seems almost fitting, then, that as the Ramones' work became patchier in the 1980s so too does the film lose some of its sparkle: focusing on a group of men who didn't get on but managed to never stop touring. By the close you're amazed that they kept it together for so long and saddened that more of the joy they brought people couldn't have rubbed off on themselves.