The new documentary about The Rolling Stones, Crossfire Hurricane, gets its worldwide premiere at 6.15pm this evening in London’s Leicester Square. At the same time, the film will be broadcast live by satellite to over 250 cinemas across the country. It’s an ambitious way to do things, but hardly unexpected – when was the last time the Stones tried anything that wasn’t on a grand scale?
The film itself doesn’t really explain how they earned the right to call themselves “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band”. Directed by Oscar-nominated documentary maker Brett Morgen, it’s a strange mix of archive footage and new interviews with current band members Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie, as well as former Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor. The new interviews are audio recordings, which Morgen cuts over old video images, and the film doesn’t include anything shot after the late 1970s. As a result, until the final credits, we never see the Stones post-craggification.
Anyway, the archive footage is of course completely wonderful. There are awesome performances of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Midnight Rambler’, much candid backstage stuff, some poignant interviews with late Stone Brian Jones, and lots of montage shots of teenage girls getting very, very excited at their early gigs. Oh, and for those who appreciate such things, the film features not one but two close-ups of Mick’s crotch in tight Y-fronts.
The new interviews are rather less revealing. Everyone plays to type: Mick’s a slippery fish, Charlie says as little as possible, Ronnie remains laddish at 65, and Keith is still the coolest man on the planet. “I didn’t have a problem with drugs,” he says of his 1970s smackhead patch, “I had a problem with cops.” To be fair, the film doesn’t skirt round the dark parts of the Stones’ legacy: the death of Brian Jones and 1969’s tragic Altamont concert are both dealt with head-on. But Morgen never really gets to the nitty-gritty of what made The Rolling Stones great. He tells their story roughly chronologically from their first ever gig in 1962 to the ‘Miss You’ era of 1978, but he’s bigger on atmosphere than specific details. The words ‘Exile On Main St’ never even come up.
But though the name “Mick Jagger” appears tellingly on the credits under the job title “producer”, Crossfire Hurricane doesn’t feel like a puff piece. It’s not always completely flattering and the words Morgen chooses to end the film with, said by Mick, could almost be construed as a a dig: “You can’t stay young forever.” Still, despite countless shots of fans going batshit in packed football stadiums, it’s no surprise that no one ever mentions ticket prices.