Billed as a celebration of the Rolling Stones’ fifty year anniversary, you’ve got to wonder why director Brett Morgan ended his film Crossfire Hurricane at 1981. It’s as if to say nothing really happened after this and, realistically not much did apart from uninspiring solo albums, public scandals and an ever increasing tension between Jagger and Richards, and no one really wants to remember that cringe-worthy Jagger and Bowie Live Aid ‘Dancing in the Street’ video do they?
To be honest I don’t think Mick did either as according to Morgan when asked why he didn’t make something akin to The Beatles Anthology, he replied, ‘…it wasn’t anything Mick was interested in doing. Mick wanted to make a movie.’ So Crossfire Hurricane is more of a coming of age film of their first twenty years and documents the journey each member took on the hazardous road that is rock and roll, showing the effect it had on the band, the music and popular culture throughout their most adventurous years. Although with Jagger as executive producer and the other band members as producers you have to wonder how much impact this could have had on the film’s content.
But a movie it is and a compelling one at that. Voiced by the Stone’s themselves in interviews with Brett Morgan and placed over original footage, part one which aired on BBC 2 on Saturday night, explored the bands beginnings, from blues obsessed teenagers in 1962, to the psychedelic phase of Their Satanic Majesties Request and ending with the untimely death of guitarist Brian Jones in 1969. Footage from the early 1960’s reminds the audience, and the band, of the cultural phenomenon that was rock and roll with screaming girls and rioting boys. We see them change and quickly acclimatise to their new found fame, adapting to the ‘yobo’ image as the anti-Beatles bestowed on them by manager Andrew Loog Oldham which they themselves acknowledge gave them free reign to act how they want and do what they want. And the more they did it, the bigger they got. As Keith growls, ‘the Beatles got the white hat, what’s left the black hat’.
The main difference between Crossfire Hurricane and other ‘rockumentaries’ is that there’s no old record producer with a mixing desk behind them talking about how great the band were. There’s no one-time forgotten groupie sitting in front of a Stones poster dishing the dirt. Well, Marianne Faithful hasn’t appeared – yet. The sycophants, commentators and critics that sometimes accompany these career spanning documentaries have been removed and we are left with just the band and their memories, or possibly lack of in the Stone’s case. In saying that though, Crossfire Hurricane doesn’t really offer us anything that we didn’t already know but it does tell us how they as individuals felt about their success and longevity, and it also reminds us how crucial the Stones were to popular culture at a time when the political, economic and cultural landscape was quickly changing. Or is this what Mick et al wants us to think? It’s hard to tell, but also hard to dispute.
Part two airs next week, covering their retreat to France, another American tour, more drug induced drama and the infamous Altamont concert. Again none of this is new and most has already been documented in films such as Gimme Shelter and Stones in Exile, but any director would be hard pressed to find some new way to portray a band like the Stones who have had more or less everything they have ever done thrown into the public eye. It is however interesting to hear what Keith, Mick, Charlie, Bill and Ronnie made of those years now those days are long gone. Although it is remarkable that the Stones have reached fifty, they haven’t really produced anything of great significance in recent history, but at the end of the day, surviving five decades as a Rolling Stone is something of an achievement. Keith Richards is testament to that.