Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stones on Film: An Introduction


50 years ago, a young group schooled on Elmore James and Chuck Berry covers broke out at London’s Marquee Club. Since then, The Rolling Stones have become an institution, even as the principal members have advanced far beyond the UK’s retirement age. Their career has been as exhaustively documented. The Stones’ legacy on film--in addition to their music--is an interesting one, a way to challenge and preserve their image as a band, and an enticement to sell a few more records.

Starting with The T.A.M.I. Show in 1964, the group have been the subjects of many documentaries, some of them helmed by legendary filmmakers. Artists like Jean-Luc Godard, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, the Maysles brothers, and many others have taken a crack at documenting the life and music of this band, as well as the historical circumstances in which it operated. In this series, my esteemed colleague Aaron Mendelson and I conduct a dialogue that focuses on documentary films made about the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.

Do they suck? Is the music good? What do these films tell us about the band, its legacy and the culinary preferences of Bill Wyman? These are all questions that we’ll tackle in this series, which we’re calling Stones On Film.

There have been at least a dozen notable Stones films in the group’s history. Several of those films are only recently part of public circulation. Last year, Charlie is My Darling was released, 45 years after it was filmed. A concert flick, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones, arrived on DVD in 2010 after only a limited theatrical release in the early 70s. Recent films like Stones in Exile and Crossfire Hurricane have illuminated aspects of the band’s work from a modern, historical perspective. And Cocksucker Blues, a film so notorious it was litigated into hiding, is now available to anyone with an internet connection.

In 2014, the Stones’ filmography is larger than ever, and probably larger than any other rock band. It’s a good time, and excuse, to discuss the Stones’ celluloid adventures. We want to examine the concert documentary by combining aspects of film and music criticism. This has resulted in (I hope) a hybrid critical style. We will review the quality of Stones performance and footage, of course. We’ll also talk the aspects of filmmaking--things like like composition, editing, camera movement,  sound, narrative, and so on.

We’ve both been Stones historians since our teenage years, as well as humorless trivia pedants (just kidding!). We will also discuss the ever-changing dynamic between Mick and Keith, tensions with other members, the evolution of the group’s songwriting and live performance style, and of course, the various controversies, scandals, and other dogma and disgraces that made the group the most notorious of its day.

Over the course of the next couple months, here are the films we will review:

Charlie is My Darling (Peter Whitehead)
Sympathy for the Devil/1+1 (Jean-Luc Godard)
The Rolling Stones Rock ‘N Roll Circus (Michael Lindsay-Hogg)
Stones in the Park (Leslie Woodhead and Jo Durden-Smith)
Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin)
Stones in Exile (Stephen Kijak)
Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank)
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones (Rollin Binzer)
Crossfire Hurricane (Brett Morgen)
Let’s Spend the Night Together (Hal Ashby)
25x5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones (Nigel Finch)
Shine a Light (Martin Scorsese)
BONUS (What could it be??)

If you consider yourself a Stones fan, there is a lot of great writing coming up. Don’t miss it! If you are some sort of Stones “hater,” I recommend reevaluating your life and aesthetic choices, and sharing your spite in the comments section. Either way, enjoy.

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