Thursday, October 1, 2009


Fox Searchlight wants to be sedated.

The specialty division is in negotiations to board a project about the life of the Ramones, based on a memoir titled "I Slept With Joey Ramone" by the musician's brother -- and, notably, featuring the band's tunes.

The project, which had initially been conceived and come together independently under manager-producer Rory Rosegarten, would get a significant boost with the boarding of the specialty division.

Written by Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh and longtime punk writer and Ramones chronicler Legs McNeil, the book centers on the life of Joey Ramone, aka Jeffrey Hyman, the lead singer of the seminal punk act. The memoir is set to be published by Simon & Schuster imprint Fireside in December.

Rosegarten is a former exec producer on "Everybody Loves Raymond" who negotiated several years ago to buy the rights to the book as it was being written and, most critically, the rights to the music. The presence of so many rights has made the negotiating process a complicated one, and the deal with Searchlight is not closed, cautioned people close to the situation.

It's still a heck of a tale. John Cummings, Jeffrey Hyman, Thomas Erdelyi and Douglas Colvin were the four key members of the Ramones, going by the names Johnny, Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee Ramone. Formed in Queens, NY, in 1974, the four (unrelated) musicians became cult symbols and fathers of the punk movement, attaining little commercial airplay but heavily influencing modern music with songs like "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Blitzkrieg Bop," “Rockaway Beach” and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" (and also giving rise to the countercultural catch phrase "Gabba Gabba Hey"). Other members -- including Marky, C.J. and Richie Ramone -- also played with the band at various points.

While the act's music was more freewheeling than political, the Ramones were both contemporaries of and in many way influences on other early punk bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, while groups as unlikely as U2 would later cite them as inspiration.

A biopic would have a rich well from which to draw. In their personal lives, many of the band members struggled with addiction and assorted health problems (three of the four principal members -- all of them besides Tommy Ramone -- died in the last decade). The Ramones were also famously torn apart by infighting, particularly between lead singer Joey and guitarist Johnny, who went years without speaking to each other thanks to a host of political and personal differences (Johnny the conservative, Joey the liberal, to say the least). Joey Ramone also overcame obsessive-compulsive disorder...You get the idea.

The Ramones split up in 1996, though did appear several times in public together subsequently.

There have been manifestations of the Ramones on the big screen before, with the 1979 teen-rebel comedy "Rock 'n Rool High School," in which the band starred as musical mavericks who help teens face off against a disciplinarian principal. Howard Stern last year signed on to produce a remake of the pic. A Ramones documentary, "End of the Century," came out in 2004.

But there has never before been a feature tale of the band's onstage music or backstage drama.

As with other influential bands, a biopic on the Ramones could take a long route to the screen, as issues relating to legacies and legalities crop up. A take on the life of Nirvana and its frontman Kurt Cobain has been in the works for years; based on a 2002 book by Charles Cross, it has at various points attracted the interest or work of Ewan MacGregor, David Benioff and Marc Forster, though it's still far from a greenlight.

The diifficulties of getting a Ramones movie made was nodded to in a plot line on third season of "Entourage," which saw a long-gestating Ramones script pounced on by the show's fictional Vincent Chase, who subsequently lost the project after agent Ari Gold double-dealed one too many times. The arc was best remembered for a trademark line from Martin Landau's character, standing in for a thinly veiled Bob Evans, asking "Is that something you might be interested in?"

Fox Searchlight has itself been interested in biopics about musical legends, earlier this year releasing "Notorious," a tale of slain rapper Biggie Smalls, which earned $37 million domestically. And film insiders pointed out that with movies like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Juno," the company, like the Ramones themselves, has succeeded in bridging the gap between the countercultural and the mainstream.

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