With the exception of 1979’s “Rock ’n’ Roll High School,” Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Ramones’ presence on the silver screen has been awfully thin … until now.
Two very different documentaries on the punk legends will debut at the second annual Tribeca Film Festival, which begins May 3. “End of the Century: The Ramones Story” is the band’s history as told by its members and their peers, while “Hey! Is Dee Dee Home?” is a pseudo-monologue by late bassist Dee Dee Ramone, shot in the early ’90s. Meanwhile, the history of punk will get its own screen time when “I Shot Andy Warhol” director Mary Harron adapts the 1996 oral history of punk book, “Please Kill Me.”
In both Ramones movies, the filmmakers said they intended to shine a new light on the notoriously quarrelsome bandmembers, who were not blood brothers but definitely shared a twisted, dysfunctional familial bond.
“The focus is twofold,” said “End of the Century” co-director Michael Gramaglia, who worked for years in the Ramones’ financial management office. “It’s telling the story of the Ramones — which is well known to fans but not at all to people who weren’t fans the first time — and to hang that all on the skeleton of their interpersonal relationships. We wanted to keep it stripped down, but laced with their signature psychosis.”
Gramaglia began shooting the film with Jim Fields in 1999, landing hours of footage with each of the band’s principal members (guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee, original drummer Tommy), with the exception of late singer Joey, who was too ill to participate.
Additionally, Gramaglia interviewed ex-Ramones members Richie and C.J., as well as punk peers Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, punk photographer Roberta Bayley and late Clash singer Joe Strummer, interviewed just six months before his death in December (see “Joe Strummer Of The Clash Dead At 50″ ).
“Joe took a three-hour train ride to meet us,” Gramaglia said. “We did a 40 minute interview with him and he just hopped right back on the train for a three-hour ride back. It was two days after Dee Dee died, and he didn’t want to do it at first because he was so disturbed by [it], but it was important to him.”
The film’s timeline begins in 1968, years before the band’s formation in the Forest Hills section of Queens, with the boys hanging around the neighborhood playground. It ends shortly after their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and Dee Dee’s death from a drug overdose. Among the rare footage in the film is a September 1974 performance in which the band is dressed in a more glam-rock fashion than their signature ripped jeans and leather jackets.
Gramaglia, who’s still getting the final edit together, said he’s trying to track down footage shot by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder during the band’s last show in Argentina in 1995. “Eddie had shots at dusk in this massive stadium filled with 60,000 people, which is amazing,” he said. “Dee Dee showed up that night and there was some disagreement, and Eddie caught Dee Dee freaking out and getting into a fistfight with Marky.”
No casting has been announced yet for “Please Kill Me,” a spokesperson for producer Jersey Films said. Director Harron is still in the early stages of adapting the book, written by “Punk” magazine co-founder Legs McNeil and poet Gillian McCain.
The often funny, frequently insane book traced the history of punk from the early days of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground in the mid-’60s through the death of punk icon Johnny Thunders in 1991. The book featured extensive interviews with several Ramones, as well as such key players as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Harron, a former “Punk” magazine contributor.
“Hey! Is Dee Dee Home?” began as an interview shot in 1992 by director Lech Kowalski for a 1999 film about Thunders, “Born to Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie.” Kowalski began combing through his Dee Dee interview footage in July, hoping to piece together the definitive portrait of the bass player, an unpredictable, punk-to-to-core hedonist who penned many of the Ramones’ signature songs.
“This is a character study of Dee Dee,” Kowalski said. “It’s Dee Dee doing Dee Dee, telling his story without a guitar, without music. It’s a stand-up routine where his personality comes off as a person who was molded by his music and how he lived. Everything you saw when he was onstage was him. There was nothing else in the world connected to him — no friends, no family, nothing outside of Dee Dee.”