Filmmaker Julien Temple has worked with some of music’s biggest stars, his films including Sex Pistols classic The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and David Bowie-starring Absolute Beginners.
His latest film focuses on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Entitled Keith Richards – The Origin Of The Species, it documents the blotto blues pirate’s experiences growing up in ’40s and ’50s Britain – as well as the era’s impact on his life, the ’60s and the decades that followed. You can watch it on BBC 2 at 9pm on Saturday July 23. We caught up with the maverick documentarian – pictured below – to find out what it’s like collaborating with Keef.
What was it like working with Keith Richards?
Julien: “It’s always a pleasure. What a magnificent subject! I’ve known him a long time, but I’m still in awe of him, like most people.”
Do you remember your first meeting?
“Yeah, it was in the toilets underneath the George V hotel in Paris. He had a sword-shaped cocktail stick straight to my neck. He thought he wasn’t in the video [‘Undercover Of The Night’] I was doing with the Stones enough. I’m not sure if he was serious – he was just being Keith.”
How much of that persona is actually him, and how much is he playing a character?
“I think he’s an incredible mix of the two. No one knows themselves more viscerally, who they actually are, than Keith Richards. And despite the insanity of fame that destroys a lot of people’s sense of self, he’s managed to retain who he is through it all. Somehow he’s remained grounded and hasn’t become a rock star… bizarrely. He’s quite unique in that sense.”
So why make this documentary? Surely everything about Keith has already been said?
“No. I think, recently, we’ve lost touch with the human being behind the legend and there’s been a lot of things done from an American perspective about him as a musician. I’m trying to reconnect him with his roots, his Englishness, and what made him who he is. I don’t think that’s been done before on film.”
Were you worried he wouldn’t be able to remember that far back?
“The guy has total recall. He doesn’t only remember it, he inhabits it and acts it out as if he were in the moment again. It’s very compelling.”
That’s encouraging. So you reckon he’s in good shape then?
“Yeah, I think he’s really enjoying playing and making music. It’s everything to him and he doesn’t seem old in spirit at all. It’ll take a lot to destroy him I think (laughs).
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Will they release a new album?
I’m sure they will, at some point, yeah. Keith’s getting on well with all the others and they’re all very excited to be playing the Desert Trip festival [in California, this October], I know that. I even asked him for tickets!”
Why should people watch the film?
“They can lie on their sofa of course! But I think it’s a good time to revisit that era, what with the current climate. It was a period where the change that happened in the sixties was bubbling under the surface and I think it’s a real warning not to go back to that ‘Little England’ post-war mindset. Which might be on the cards.”
What’s your advice to the current generation? Is there another cultural revolution on its way?
“I live in hope, but I’ve been waiting 40 years since punk, and nothing really has happened. It’s time to do something, definitely. Get up and demand to be heard. Make sure you’re able to do what you wanna do and never let people stop you for their own stupid, selfish, reasons. That’s what I’d say.”
Keith Richards -The Origin Of The Species airs Saturday July 23 at 9pm on BBC 2