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Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg
Photograph: Dogwoof

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The original ’60s ‘It’ girl make a captivating subject for this bittersweet doc

They say that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there. Happily, this portrait of Anita Pallenberg’s strange and beguiling life musters up at least five or six people who can paint a compellingly complex picture of Anita Pallenberg, model, actress and original ‘It’ girl.

For the uninitiated, the Italian-German beauty was a model, actress, wife to Keith Richards, muse to filmmakers and artists, and for long, dark stretches, a drug addict and alcoholic. As the doc captures, she blew through the era like a zephyr. Sometimes, she staggered through it, a heroin-addled ruin. She died in 2017 after a second act in which she dried out, embraced fashion and hung out with Kate Moss (who chips in here) and Vivienne Westwood. 

The film’s talking heads – Richards and Marianne Faithfull, Pallenberg’s fellow Stones girlfriend, among them – are bolstered by her two surviving children by the Stones’ guitarist. The idea for the film originated with them, driving its confessional mode and delivering loving but haunting recollections of an itinerant upbringing with an absent dad and a whacked-out mum. Oldest son, Marlon, remembers being left to wander at night as musicians and hangers-on partied at his parents’ home. Daughter Dandelion grumbles cheerfully about the name her parents picked for her.

It’s closer to Requiem for a Dream than Austin Powers

It’s a penetrating picture of a much-mythologised period. There’s police raids, hospital trips, the grind of Rolling Stones tours (‘the bus’ or ‘the org’ were the sinister-sounding names given to the Stones’ travelling behemoth), and the crutch of harder and harder drugs. It’s closer to Requiem for a Dream than Austin Powers. 

Catching Fire’s secret weapons are gauzy Super 8 home videos of hazy getaways and romantic Alpine interludes, and the words of Pallenberg herself, sourced from her own unpublished memoir and narrated with husky intimacy by Scarlett Johansson. (Surely, the dream pick to play her in a movie.) 

The love triangle between Pallenberg, Richards and his abusive, troubled Stones bandmate Brian Jones gets plenty of airtime, as does the sex-and-acid aria of Nicholas Roeg’s Performance, where life ended up imitating art for Pallenberg and her co-star and on-set bedmate Mick Jagger. 

But if co-directors Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom paint a sometimes confronting picture of the price of free love, it never tarnishes their subject. You’re left with the sense that she was a butterfly neither the Stones nor any of the other men in her life could ever trap – a fitting epitaph to a mercurial life.

In UK cinemas May 17

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Alexis Bloom, Svetlana Zill
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