There have been some landmark films about the Rolling Stones over the years. The standouts include Peter Whitehead’s ‘Charlie is My Darling’; Robert Frank’s ‘Cocksucker Blues’; the Maysles brothers’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ and to a lesser extent, Martin Scorsese’s recent effort, ‘Shine a Light’. This new documentary, co-produced by Mick Jagger, draws heavily on all four of those films and brings little new to the table rather than confirming the band’s enviable ability to control its own image.
After a whirlwind and chaotic tour of the ’60s and ’70s, ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ tails off abruptly at the first sign of grey hair. Before then, new interviews with the four current band members (plus old hands Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor) are heard but not seen, and the relationship between the newly recorded intermittent commentary, and the archive imagery (much of which, alone, is thrilling) is vague to say the least. There’s only so much footage of screaming, running fans that an audience can take before concluding: we get the point.
The early years are dealt with adequately as the film races through the Stones’s rise to fame, their persona in opposition to The Beatles (Keith Richards talks of the Stones as a ‘black act’), the death of Brian Jones (Jagger: ‘We said to Brian, “This isn’t working out”… I felt terrible… Surely we could have done something’) and the death of a fan at Altamont in December 1969. The latter event is perhaps the most tightly presented of the film’s various episodes – but mostly because the Maysles brothers captured it first-hand for ‘Gimme Shelter’ at the time.
As the film moves into the 1970s, Richards talks of an ‘unstoppable momentum’ overtaking the band. But the opposite happens on ‘Crossfire Hurricane’, as an already hazy chronology becomes downright foggy. Ronnie Wood’s contribution to the Stones (he joined when Taylor left in 1975) is mostly limited to a lively montage and kind words from Richards about how they were kindred spirits on and off stage. There’s no clear end point and so the film fades limply to black. The decision to keep the band members’ faces offscreen feels like a mistake. They, surely, could have given this film some of the personality its director, Brett Morgen, fails to.