They've been calling them the "greediest rock & roll band in the world" this week, as the four arena shows celebrating their 50th birthday went on sale at obscenely inflated prices. It's only the latest in an ongoing deluge of accusations which have been levelled at The Rolling Stones. Here, though, is their case for the defence: their latest officially sanctioned effort to encapsulate the lore and essence of Stonesness on celluloid, plungeing to the heart of why they were the greatest, rather than the greediest.
Just 100 minutes long, Crossfire Hurricane strips away all the extraneous biographical matter - who recorded/dissed/sued/shagged who, etc - to get to the crux of the Stones narrative. "The Beatles had the white hat," Keith Richards explains in his permanently amused cackle, "so what's left? The black hat, ha ha hargh!" Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, plus bailers Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor, never appear as talking heads on camera, but as iconic voices commenting unseen on ever-stirring archive footage.
The '60s veterans testify how svengali manager Andrew Loog Oldham sought to package them as the anti-Fab Four, The Beatles' evil twins - back then, it really was as black and white as that. Unkempt and unruly, they were, they say, simply in the right place at the right time, but as Jagger notes, someone had to play that role, and they were perfect for it.
Some staggering live footage - taken from 1965's shelved on-the-road movie, Charlie Is My Darling, which gets its first ever release next month - shows the band's brief performances that year descending into anarchy, as if Western Civilisation is crumbling before your eyes. Wyman, ever the creepy, voyeuristic Stone, tells of the "flood of urine" he espied running down theatre seats, as their teenie fans collectively wet themselves.
"The showbusiness angle was boring to us," notes Richards. Initially, that's what the Stones were: an affront to traditional values in entertainment, which even the other beat groups hadn't dared to contravene. It was with Jagger and Richards' arrest at Keith's Redlands retreat, however, that the guitarist says his hat turned from "off-grey" to the full shade of pitch. "They made me an outlaw," he avers. Jagger recalls how, that fateful day, the two went for a walk, tripping, and copped some fresh milk off a local farmer milking his cows. They were on a "nice, smooth comedown" back home, says Richards, when the cops, tipped off by the News Of The World, arrived to bust them, at which point they truly became Public Enemy Number One.
Noticeably, there's no mention of Marianne Faithfull here (for her famed Mars Bar secretion), or at any other juncture. The wives and other women don't get a look-in. But there are drugs by the shedload: we glimpse Jagger bumping coke off a kitchen knife; later, an interviewer asks the singer what the pills circulating on plates round the backstage area might be - vitamins and salt tablets, he replies.
Drugs are a backdrop, and a catalyst, for the darkness that quickly surrounds them. Parallel to soundtracking the era's violence (Vietnam, etc) with Sympathy For The Devil, Brian Jones immobilizes himself with narcotics and croaks (Jagger, with rare emotion: "Looking back, you do think, wasn't there something we could've done?"). Then, at their notorious free show at Altamont Speedway in 1969, scenes from the Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter show the Hell's Angels, hired as security, gurning on nuclear-strength LSD, before battering hapless punters with pool cues, and then killing the gun-waving Meredith Hunter during the Stones' set.
To numb himself against the bad vibes, Richards "took to the stuff" (ie smack) and there follow luridly smacky scenes from 1972's Exile On Main Street sessions at Nellcôte, with Jagger tinkling the ivories in his briefs, and sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll afoot in every corner.
Again, all this is familiar from 2010's Stones In Exile doc. There is a strong sense that "Crossfire Hurricane" cobbles together the juicy bits from all the previous Stones movies. 1989's silver-anniversary celebrating "25x5" remains the most comprehensive treatment - even though, obviously, Brett Morgen had the option to get stuck into the years of bickering and "tiny todger" insults that have characterized the last two decades in Stones history.
Pointedly, he swerves that option almost entirely. Ronnie Wood, who joined 36 years ago, only pops up in the last five minutes, as the scamp, says Jagger, who enabled the Stones to make the transition "from being about being dangerous, to a thing about having fun". And making money, he might add, all of which makes less rivetting viewing.
The preceding 95 minutes, then, are really about wiping away unsavoury memories of the Stones growing old, and keying into everything that made them matter in the first place.
It's also about clearing the air between Jagger and Richards, in advance, presumably, of a mega-tour next year. In his autobiography, Life, Keith refused to spend so much as one line explaining why his relationship with Mick worked in the beginning, before dysfunction set in. Here, he enthuses about Mick and himself being "on the same groove", highlighting Midnight Rambler as their ultimate concoction: "nobody else woulda thought of making an opera out the blues," he guffaws.
There follows a breath-taking live version of the song, frantically inter-cut with the famous groupie-banging scenes from 1972's unseen Cocksucker Blues movie. Even youngsters who weren't born when Bridges To Babylon came out (in 1997) would have to concede, these were some pretty out-there motherfuckers.
And that's the point of it all: the "white" bunch, the Fabs, since imploding in 1970, have had their catalogue enshrined ever higher as rock's holy text; the much-maligned "black" brigade, who were the ones who really did the fighting mano-a-mano to shake Britain out of its post-War uptightness, but who have survived inevitably to sully their credibility in the masses' eyes (until tickets go on sale for another tour, that is) - they still have to ensure, before one of them pops their clogs, god forbid, or Keith's fingers stop working, or whatever else may cause them to cease trading, that they and their legacy are similarly immortalized.
In that light, Crossfire Hurricane is reductive, but highly persuasive. It's hugely exciting, too - almost impossible, indeed, viewers of any age not to be knocked sideways by it.
For more head to Rollingstones.com
3:14 PM | 19/10/2012
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