To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Rolling Stones have come out of retirement to release a few new singles (“Doom and Gloom,” and “One More Shot”), perform some surprise club shows leading up to a major tour next year, and have taken part in the new retrospective documentary, CROSSFIRE HURRICANE, which premieres on HBO Thursday night, November 15th.
Directed by Brett Morgen, best known for co-directing the acclaimed 2002 bio-doc THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, about mega-producer Robert Evans, the film covers the early ‘60s to late ‘70s rise of England’s oldest hit-makers, featuring new audio-only interviews of band members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Bill Wyman, and Mick Taylor.
The doc packs a lot into its one hour and forty plus minute running time, including healthy chunks of such classics as “Street Fighting Man,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction),” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and “Honky Tonk Women,” mostly smoothly mixing an overview of their hits into the band’s layered narrative without overly cluttering it.
In one funny mid ‘60s TV clip, a straight-laced news commentator criticizes the raunchy rock group for their “carefully calculated air of ‘blow you, Jack!” This speaks volumes as the doc itself strongly appears to be a carefully calculated attempt to re-inforce the Stones’ legendary bad boy image right in time for their reunion.
There is much talk about how they were set-up by their shrewd manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham to be the anti-Beatles, the bad guys to the fab four’s good guys, and a lot of back stage decadence displayed in the chosen footage including many shots of Stones’ members drinking every bit of available liquor there is.
It’s like the Stones (most of who produced or executive produced this doc) are saying: ‘We know we’re old mainstream geezers now, but back in the day we were quite dangerous. We had tons of sex, drugs and booze along with our kick ass rock ‘n roll, and even spent time behind bars. We just want to remind you of all that.’
CROSSFIRE HURRICANE, which takes its title from a lyric in “Jumping Jack Flash,”only covers up to the Stones’ ‘1978 album “Some Girls,” though there is brief footage from Hal Ashby’s live concert film LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER (shot in 1981, released in ’83), so there’s a lot of story left to be told, but the film does ideally cover the band’s most vital eras.
Since those eras have been already very well covered, Morgan’s doc often feels like a hodgepodge of clips from the many other Stones documentaries, almost resembling a greatest hits of the best bits from their filmography.
There’s cool black and white footage of Mick and Keith writing “Sitting on a Fence” from the newly restored and released doc CHARLIE IS MY DARLING (shot on their tour of Ireland in 1965), there’s an excerpt of the Stones playing in Hyde Park after the death of Brian Jones from THE STONES IN THE PARK (1969), there’s the great gritty film of the band recording in Keith’s basement at Villa Nellcôte in France that appeared in the 2010 doc STONES IN EXILE, there’s the shocking moment of murder at Altamont captured in the Maysles brothers’ essential GIMME SHELTER (1970), and so on.
Some of the same archival footage has also been used in Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (2008), from which Morgen also borrows a performance of “All Down The Line” for the end credits (the most recent film of the Stones in this doc).
So if you’re a big Stones fan, you are likely to have already seen a large percentage of this stuff, but if you’re a newcomer to this material, it functions as an purposeful primer of their formative years.
As a longtime fan myself, I learned precious little I didn’t know before, but enjoyed a few fresh insights from the new interviews like when Richards remarks “The essence of Jagger and Richards together, I suppose would be ‘Midnight Rambler.’ Anybody could’ve written any of our songs, but I don’t think anyone could’ve written ‘Midnight Rambler’ other than Mick and Me.”
Or drummer Charlie Watt's assessment that guitarist Ron Wood, who replaced Mick Taylor in the mid '70s, became “the link between the two strong egos (Jagger and Richards), and the two light ones (himself and Wyman).”
Trying to sum up the group’s appeal, the late Brian Jones, looking back on their ‘65 breakthrough just a year later, tells a reporter that they had “the right type of sound, and the right visual image the kids of the world wanted at the time.”
Fifty years may have passed, and the Stones haven’t had that bad boy image for a long-ass time, but when the publicity machine kicks in with this doc, their new ‘best of’ 3 CD compilation (“GRRR!”) dropping this week, and their looming 2013 tour, surely to be one of the biggest grossing tours ever, it will again be inescapable that they are still hugely wanted by the world.