Documentary Round-Up: End Of The Century: The Story of The Ramones (2003), The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), Monster Camp (2007)
End Of The Century: The Story of The Ramones (2003) - After reading Everett True's British-centric (but very good) biography of The Ramones Hey Ho Let's Go, I decided to try out this revered labour of love documentary from filmmakers Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia. While (necessarily) missing much of the detail of the book, the film was positioned at a rather unfortunate time in the history of the band - Joey Ramone having passed away in 2001, Dee Dee Ramone passing away during the production of the film, and Johnny Ramone passing away soon afterwards - which colors the viewing of it considerably. For fans of the band much of the information is well known, yet still fascinating to view as the mix of archival footage and newer interviews tells the story of the bands slow rise to fame and destruction due to internal struggles. The personalities of the central four: Johnny the dictator, Joey the hearthrob, Dee Dee the wildman and Tommy the technician come through loud and clear, but the documentary does much to humanize these men beyond their Ramones uniforms. A brief moment with Johnny talking about Joey's death - unable to understand why he felt so depressed by the death of someone he had basically stopped talking to more than a decade earlier- might be the film's most revealing moment. An exciting, but sometimes saddening look at America's very best punk band.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) - As someone with an understanding of obsession with various menial and unimportant things, there was much to relate to in this portrayal of competition amongst that geekiest of video game subcultures: the retro gamer. While playing fast and loose with facts for dramatic reasons, filmmaker Seth Gordon still wrings every ounce of tension as the rivalry between showboat hot-sauce salesman Billy Mitchell and sad-sack Science Teacher Steve Wiebe in gaining the world's highest score in Donkey Kong comes to a head. While Wiebe's tale of redemption and confirmation is the film's emotional centre, it really works because Mitchell makes such a convincing real-life villain. A slimy egotist who ducks Wiebe at every turn while preaching platitudes like a particularly sleazy motivational speaker, it's hard to believe that such a person could even exist. That his confidence comes from his mastery of what appears to be such a frivalous and unimportant skill-set gives the whole thing a minor surreal edge. As an audience member you're certainly being manipulated, but it's rare to get such David vs Goliath showdowns in a documentary.
Monster Camp (2007) - A fun but slight documentary dealing with the incredibly nerdy subculture of Live Action Role Playing (LARPing). While providing little insight into the mechanics of gameplay - the whole thing remained a bit of a mystery to me throughout - there's still lots to love about witnessing a development of comradery amongst the most ignored of social misfits. While we're introduced to a number of the players, and follow their development as they play, we unfortunately only get glimpses at what brings them back to this rather unique fantasy world again and again. There are endless scenes of people in funny costumes throwing bags of seeds at one another or hitting each other with pool noodles, but I never felt a sense of the joy and creativity which fuels the passion that these men and women have for their pursuit. Enjoyable, and sympathetic to its characters, but could have used a bit more whimsy.