Lech Kowalski interviewed Douglas Colvin, better known to the world as Dee Dee Ramone in 1992 to discuss his relationship with the late Johnny Thunders for his, at the time, in progress documentary, Born To Lose (The Last Rock And Roll Movie). With that in mind, it's not surprising (though it is slightly disappointing) that Dee Dee spends the vast majority of this hour-long interview talking more about his relationship with Thunders than his work with Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees, The Ramones.
That's not to say, however, that this isn't worth watching. There are some really interesting stories told over the documentary's hour and three minute running time, as Dee Dee talks about his problems with drug addiction and how he (at the time) overcame them, made all the more tragic by the fact that one June 5, 2002 he died or a heroin overdose at the age of fifty. Of course, Dee Dee does tell a few stories about his time in the most influential punk band in American history, but that's not the focus here, it's more on substance abuse and what it was like being part of the New York City punk scene before it officially even really existed.
In addition to stories about scoring drugs and getting high, we're also treated to anecdotes about running from the cops, getting clobbered by Debbie Harry (who had a horseshoe in her purse that she'd use to hit people with), and hanging out with Thunders, Richard Hell, and Jerry Nolan, who he all used to get high with. Most of the stories eventually come back to drugs at some point, which isn't surprising given Dee Dee's very well known battles with substance abuse. Dee Dee is very candid here about his trials and his tribulations. He's upfront and seemingly pretty honest about the good and the bad he's done and as such, there's an air of authenticity even when what we're hearing could very well be bullshit. This makes the sometimes rough around the edges interview footage all rather fascinating. Dee Dee was a train wreck in a lot of ways, much like Thunders before him, but again like Thunders before him, he was a pretty fascinating guy. As messed up as Dee Dee was, you definitely get t he impression that he was a nice guy. Troubled, to fault, but nice.
He also gives us a rundown on his tattoo collection, tells some (though not enough) amusing stories about life in The Ramones like pawning Joey's television set to get some money to score dope with. There's also a lot of time spent detailing the history of writing Chinese Rock and how he had to argue with Johnny Ramone to get the band to record it. On top of that, there's some pretty interesting archival footage in here where eagle eyed viewers will spot the likes of Richard Hell, Billy Idol, Jerry Nolan, Joey Ramone and Johnny Thunders.
Overall, it seems like the documentary was put together out of spare footage that was unused from the Thunders film after Dee Dee died. Whether it's a cash in or a tribute is debatable but the film does serve as a good (but not great) testament to Dee Dee's influence on rock and roll. More input from those who knew him might have helped to flesh things out nicely and given a more 'well rounded' look into his life, but you can't really fault Kowalski for letting Dee Dee tell his stories (and most of them are good ones) in his own words. After all, who better to detail his exploits than the man himself? It's a shame then that he didn't live long enough to see this material find a fan base.
The movie was shot on BETA SP with a single camera and as such, picture quality isn't exactly perfect but overall the image is very stable and quite colorful. Older footage is mixed in with the newer interview material and looks a little worse for wear but the footage that Kowalski shot of Dee Dee looks nice and sharp and leaves very little to complain about.
Audio options are supplied in English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish. Everything comes through nice and clear with the more recent footage, and, much like the video, degrades noticeably when the older footage is spliced in. There aren't any problems at all with the documentary in regards to this mix though, and very clean and consistent without any noticeable defects to report on.
In addition to Hey Is Dee Dee Home this disc includes two other documentaries. Let's start with the film this set is titled after, History On My Arms (27:31), an interesting short film by Kowalski that was pieced together in 2008 from outtakes and left over bits he shot while creating Hey Is Dee Dee Home. The intent was to capture his personality more so than it was to tell his story, and it's all shot and captured in the same sort of fly-on-the-wall style that the main feature is - meaning the cinematography may not always be pretty, but it is effective. There's a lot of footage here of Dee Dee simply playing guitar, fooling around with the instrument, but there's also some really interesting bits where he starts to explain the tattoos on his arms, what they mean to him, and how and where and why he got them in the first place.
The second bonus film is VOM In Paris (22:29), and it's basically an interview with the drummer of Die Toten Hosen, Vom Ritichie, who speaks about playing with Dee Dee, Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders in a noble but failed attempt to start a band featuring some of the more influential guys in the punk scene of the time. Shot in Vom's apartment, he pretty much dishes the dirt on how and why this idea took off but more interestingly how and why it crashed and burned.
Aside from what's on the DVD, inside the keepcase you'll find two pretty sweet bonuses, the first of which is Dee Dee Blues, a full length CD of some recordings that Dee Dee made at in the early nineties at three different locations in New York City - Chelsea Hotel, 14th Street and 23rd Street. Here Dee Dee actually handles guitar duties, and while this stuff is strictly amateur/demo material, complete with some rambling discussions between Dee Dee and someone else (possibly Mark Brady who recorded him), it's interesting to hear this stuff as it's all blues inspired stuff and sounds very little like The Ramones material he's most often associated with. Also included inside the keepcase is a full color booklet containing a four page essay on Dee Dee's life.
The original DVD release of Hey Is Dee Dee Home featured some outtakes from Born To Lose where Johnny Thunders played Chinese Rock and a still gallery - none of that material has been carried over to this new DVD.
If you've already got the first release of Hey Is Dee Dee Home you'll have to figure out how much the two bonus shorts mean to you, because the audio and video quality is more or less the same. That said, if you're interested in the early New York City punk scene or a diehard Ramones fan and don't already have that disc, this is the one to get. There's more content on here and the shorts compliment the feature quite nicely. The audio and video is maybe not as polished as some might want, but that hardly matters in this case. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.