Sunday, April 11, 2010

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.


J.T. said...

I saw The End of the Century a couple of weeks ago on IFC and it was absolutely heartbreaking.

I keep missing the King of Kong, but I think it will be on rotation on Sundance or something in a few weeks.

Monster Camp scares the shit out of me. I used to be a big D&D nerd in high school but girls and lazyness halted my descent into complete and irreversible nerddom.

I still love me some role playing games but the thought of getting into costume seems like too much work and too much deviation from real life.

Vampire LARPers seem like they are the group most in need of sunlight and therapy.

Doug Tilley said...

In reality, by reading the book first I was doing things in the wrong order. The movie still hit hard, but most of the big reveals were something I was aware of well in advance - though that didn't make the section on Joey's death any easier. The biggest surprise was how sympathetic (and funny) Dee Dee seemed. While obviously a lifetime junkie, he was also quite introspective and many of his comments were the most revealing in the whole thing. It was my own ignorance, but before reading the book I knew him best as the guy who said "Hey! Pizza! Let's dig in" from Rock N Roll High School.

King Of Kong is really worthwhile. Some of the luster is removed when you read more about it - the whole things feels more manufactured - but that doesn't change the fact that what is on-screen is pretty darn amazing.

Monster Camp is a little odd because of how directionless the various players seem. I know something about being a geek, but most of the other geeks I know are actually fairly successful in their various fields while the folks in this doc seemed to be stuck in dead end jobs or unable to move forward in their lives. It probably explains their need to escape into fantasy even more than usual, though the documentary doesn't go into a lot of detail about that.

And i've witnessed some Vampire LARPers in person. I generally avoid poking fun at anyone's particular hobby, but that one is pretty darn ridiculous.

Ash said...

I love THE KING OF KONG. Billy Mitchell is a figure who I just can't wrap my mind around. It's hard to believe he's a real person.