Lech Kowalski – Born to Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie (1999)

”Born To Lose (The Last Rock & Roll Movie)’ documents the myth, and dark reality, of Johnny Thunders. It contains plenty of choice concert material, much of which has never been seen before. There are also a large number of interviews with people talking about Johnny but none of Johnny himself. Some of the scenes in this film were shot by Lech for two un-
finished films that were to star Johnny titled ‘Gringo’ and ‘Stations Of The Cross.’

The concert material has been drawn from a number of sources and the quality varies dramatically. Some of the scenes are drawn from the early Bob Gruen video ‘Looking For A Kiss’. Other material is amateur video tape, such as a later show at the Gibus club in Paris that gives a glimpse of Thunders at his very worst. Most of the live material though is high quality pro-shot. Images that stand out in my mind are Chris Spedding playing Johnny’s guitar while Johnny sings and a searing version of Pipeline live at the Lyceum. The rough quality of some of the material doesn’t detract from the overall look of the film but gives it the appropriate look of authentic dirty rock & roll. Overall the film looked clear, bright and vibrant. The sound on this print was still regular stereo not Dolby digital but it was the best I have ever heard for video material.

For the hard-core fan, the concert material is enough to completely describe who and what was Johnny Thunders. Just watching him on stage in this film you can see the power and energy of his performances. He was a showman that instinctively knew how to work the audience and when he hit the stage you had to watch only him. The sloppy piercing sound of his guitar was distinctive and commanding. But as shown so clearly in the images, time and drug abuse took their heavy toll. Later performances are embarrassing and weak with Johnny barely able to stand or make sense. If all the interview material was removed, you could watch only the concert shots and still get a clear idea of what was happening in his life.

There are many interviews with Johnny’s friends and family that try and give a picture of the real Thunders. Dee Dee Ramone does a lot of talking about Thunders career and their time together. He doesn’t talk about the time that, in a fit of rage, he broke Johnny’s beloved guitar and poured bleach over his clothes. I would have liked to hear Dee Dee’s version of how that all went down. Wayne Kramer talks about their time together in Gang War and tells the tale of how Johnny tried to stupidly rob the hall that had hired them. Maryann, Johnny’s sister, talks about his early life at home and what he was like as a kid growing up. Other notable interviews include Sylvain Sylvain, John Spaceley and Mick Webster.

A large part of the movie deals with Thunders’ unfortunate death in a New Orleans hotel room. Willie Deville, who lived across the street from the hotel, offers an extensive interview and tries to piece together what happened that day. Lech also interviews the two hustlers that were with Johnny in his last hours. One of these unsavory characters is interviewed while in jail on other charges. John Spacely, as he lies in a hospital room bed dying of AIDS, hints that Thunders may have also contracted the same disease. There has been much speculation about exactly what happened on that day and the film can’t offer a definitive answer. We do know that it was the combination of drugs, sex and rock & roll but don’t know the exact mix.

This film promotes the legend of Johnny Thunders while trying to find the real person inside. It’s a sad, euphoric, sacred and profane tale of a small boy’s rise to greatness and descent into hell. Thunders lived the rock & roll life until it overwhelmed his soul and swallowed him up. The truth of the film may be that Thunders became the myth he helped create.

1.37GB | 1h 40m | 608×464 | avi



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