Few performers have had the longevity of The Rolling Stones. In 50 years, they've gone from being the dangerous, anti-Beatles to being the elder statesmen of rock. In the band's own words, they went from being the group everyone hated to being the group everyone loves. In honor of their 50th anniversary, director Brett Morgen sat down with the individual members of the band, past and present, to hear them tell their remarkable story. That story is preserved on the new Blu-ray, The Rolling Stones -- Crossfire Hurricane.
For the documentary, no film cameras were allowed for the band interviews. Instead, we hear the voices of the band members narrating their story. The band's bad boy credibility is established early on in the film. In a backstage interview with Dick Cavett on the band's notorious 1972 tour, Cavett points out to Mick Jagger that there is a plate of pills and powder going around and ponders whether it is really necessary. Jagger assures Cavett that it is vitamins and salt going around backstage. Later, Jagger appears to snort some of this "salt" from a knife that was lying around. A sizzling, complete performance of "Street Fighting Man" follows. Jagger claimed in an interview from the period that he was not a shrewd and professional performer, but his command of the stage and the band's raw power, even at their most drugged up, proves otherwise. The 1972 band gets on their plane after the gig and this is where the documentary travels back in time, as the 60s version of the group gets off.
Keith Richards (rightly) claimed that there couldn't just be one band in England, meaning The Beatles, and the band's original manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham presented the Stones as the anti-Beatles. While The Beatles' image was clean cut, the Stones were the band you were afraid to have around your daughter. The strategy worked; as the band developed a strong live following, with fans often rushing the stage and Richards boasting that the band did not complete a gig for one reason or another for two to three years. Richards said if The Beatles wore the white hats, all that was left were the black hats and the Stones were happy to wear them.
The band came into their own when they started writing their own material. Jagger smartly realized they couldn't have the second album be all covers like their first and the band began to write their own songs. It is here that we see killer hotel room footage of the band working on "Sittin' On A Fence." An interesting phenomenon begins to happen at the band's shows. The female fans want to engulf Jagger, while the male fans want to take out their aggressions. To emphasize the point, "Paint It Black" is set to footage of police beating up fans.
Jagger says that as the '60s wore on, the drugs got more intense and that just built up the band's persona. Indeed, a day that started with an acid trip and a pleasant walk for Jagger and Richards ended up with the pair getting busted for drugs that evening. Richards, who faced a year in jail, and who was not interested in the justice system's "petty morals," was soon bailed. Richards, perhaps in denial about his own addictions, says this is when the character of Keith Richards was born, that everyone else was writing the script for him.
While Ian Stewart is strangely ignored, Brian Jones is presented in a more sympathetic light than he often is by the band. Jagger and Richards make no bones about saying he did a lot more drugs than they did and the wrong kind to boot, but they also praise his contributions and say that even at his very worst, he could deliver something beautiful, such as his guitar lines in "No Expectations." A number of interview clips with Jones are included in the documentary. After Jones' death, the band's Hyde Park concert turned into an unofficial memorial for their former band mate and a coming out party for new lead guitarist, Mick Taylor.
The majority of the rest of the film focuses on the Taylor years, particularly the Altamont show and the 1972 tour. Richards says he was worried when he saw the condition of the Hell's Angels, hired to do security at Altamont, and Jagger says the band was genuinely scared for their and their fans' safety. While Jagger tried to maintain order with the crowd, Richards believes there would have been a riot had they bailed. Some fantastic footage of the band recording Exile On Main Street follows, along with stories of heroin and debauchery. Taylor also addresses why he left the band.
Where Crossfire Hurricane falls short is in its coverage of the Ron Wood years. Roughly 16 minutes out of two hours is dedicated to 1975-1978. While one may argue these years are less significant in terms of their place in Stones lore, it ignores Tattoo You, one of the band's biggest and best-loved albums, the feud (and reconciliation for the Steel Wheels album and tour) between Jagger and Richards, the departure of Bill Wyman and the band's massive stadium jaunts. In fairness, it would be next to impossible to cover the band's history in two hours, a fear Jagger reportedly echoed. Rumors persist of a volume two, but those have not been substantiated.
The Blu-ray contains a treasure trove of 1960s live performances as bonus features. There are nine complete songs, including three songs from the NME Poll Winners Concert in 1964 and two from 1965. These performances capture the excitement of the early days and show why the Stones had the reputation of being the world's greatest rock and roll band. Also included is an interview with director Brett Morgen.
The video is presented in 1080P High Definition Widescreen 16:9 (1.78:1) with LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio sound options. The majority of the footage is archival, but it is clean and looks about as well as could be expected. The audio sounds great throughout, with the majority of the bonus footage presented in the original mono.
While diehard fans may have seen some of this footage, there really is a lot of it and all of it looks great. It would have been nice to have the last 30 years covered, but the years that are covered are given a lot of detail. It is interesting to hear the band tell their story in their own words and the bonus features alone make Crossfire Hurricane worth owning.