LOOK: New Rolling Stones Documentary “Crossfire Hurricane” Debuts on HBO
By Adam Pollock; photo courtesy of Rolling Stones/ HBO on November 19, 2012
The golden jubilee of Britain’s beloved rock and roll royal family is upon us and we are being treated to a cavalcade of celebratory fanfare as befits a sitting, if slightly marginalized monarchy. Some of it, a new greatest-hits album for instance, is obligatory; some, such as the expected victory-lap tour, is being met with questionable interest (do I really have to pay $300 and go to Newark?) and some is unexpected and amazing.
Into the latter category falls director Brett Morgen’s remarkable new Rolling Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, which debuted in theaters in Europe this fall, and is being screened exclusively on HBO now. Anyone who claims to be even the most casual Stones fan has had access to cinematic footage on them for years, from the classic Gimmie Shelter, the story of their 1969 tour and Altamont performance, to Martin Scorsese’s recent Shine A Light. The more passionate of us have also secured bootleg VHS’s of the banned-from-theatres Cocksucker Blues and never released (until recently) Charlie Is My Darling. Morgen’s footage is therefore not, for the most part, unfamiliar--what sets it apart are the new voiceovers provided by the band, and loads of never-before-seen clips that add a whole new layer of knowledge into, as we have all come to agree on, the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
As the film unspools we hear the expected languid drawl and smoky cackle of the band’s leaders, but we are also treated to significant reminiscences from Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts; Bill Wyman, he of elephantine memory, brings volumes of new insight into the inner working of the band. The new footage is equally inspirational, Morgen has culled stunning clips from the archives and for the first time we get to experience the utter bedlam that their early shows created. Jean-Luc Godard documented the 1968 recording of the seminal song “Sympathy for the Devil” in his film of the same name, here we get an expanded look at those sessions with much more emphasis on Brian Jones’ decline into ‘la la land,’ as Keith puts it. We’ve seen the Altamont concert before but have never heard Jagger talk about how scary it was, as he does here, likewise the singers memories of the Exile On Main Street sessions shine a light (sorry) on the process that went in the recording of one of the most iconic rock records of all time; he suggests that having heroin addicted sound engineers is not recommended.
The true magnificence of the film, however, comes with a number of live clips from the early 70’s. Seeing a crowd erupt at the intro to “Honky Tonk Woman,” a riff so simple, two notes played twice a bar repeatedly, that an infant could learn it, truly demonstrates the unfathomable musical magic this band conjures. While Wyman does try to explain it, citing the fact that while most bands follow the drummer, Charlie Watts follows Keith, and his bass playing is slightly ahead of the beat, which results in a sound ‘on the verge of falling apart,’ there really is no way to fully comprehend it. As Jagger leaps and howls at the audience all we can do is stare up, throats exposed like sacrificial lambs, and let the power of pure rock and roll consume us.
Crossfire Hurricane: (L-R) Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts & Ronnie Wood