It was unavoidable, but this column has started to cannibalize itself. This is not a bad thing by any measure, but we were bound to start double-dipping on some artists as we went. It’s not like we’re gonna make a big habit of it, but here we go with another entry related to the Rolling Stones six months after we presented their epic bummer of a nightmare concert-doc Gimme Shelter. For this week we’re going to take a more holistic approach to the beginnings of the band with Crossfire Hurricane.
Directed by Brett Morgen, Crossfire Hurricane is another excellent addition to Morgen’s ourve of tightly orchestrated archival footage. Along with Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and his entry in the 30 for 30 cannon, June 17th, 1994, Morgen masterfully dives into the depths of the Stones’ vaults and stitches together a remarkable look at their career from reels of behind the scenes goodies. Coupled with all the glorious seldom seen imagery are excerpts from fifty-plus hours of interviews that Morgen did with band members over the days leading up to their fiftieth anniversary. Described as “the most extensive group interviews they've ever done” the voices we hear are relaxed but focused, with the assessments of the past coming off as thoughtful and without any agenda. How these guys, Keith Richards specifically, spent so many years zooted on every drug imaginable and are still capable of such incredible recall remains one of the great mysteries of the natural world.
Packaged as the “evil” Beatles, the Rolling Stones leaned in to all the darkness that the Beatles attempted to float above. Both drew their influences from the early rock and rollers, but the Stones went a step further and mainlined the blues into the veins of their sound which gave them a definite prickly edge over their mop-topped compatriots. The effect they both those bands had were similar enough, with teenage girls losing their collective minds at concerts, but for young boys the Rolling Stones brought out an animal desire to pick fights with the police. They managed to ride those instinctual lizard-brain-tickling abilities all the way through the late seventies when Crossfire Hurricane leaves off.
It’s bullshit to criticize something for what it isn’t. I know this. But, more than any other film we’ve seen here before, this one triggered something in me I couldn’t quite shake. The Rolling Stones are one of the most important bands in the history of rock and roll, and Crossfire Hurricane does an excellent job putting them appropriately atop this pedestal. And for what it’s worth we get to see a whole lot of the complexity that the band went through over their first two decades that this film covers. The death of Brian Jones is explored in depth, and deftly so I might add, with the comments from the band ringing with sincerity. There is, of course, a whole section towards the end dedicated to presenting the band’s side of the story on Altamont, which is basically that the show was the perfect storm of shit for all involved and each still carry the death of Meredith Hunter, stabbed by Hell’s Angels after he brandished a gun at them, on their conscience in some way or other. That said, there’s this whole second half of their career that we see nothing of.
If this is your first time being exposed to the history of the Rolling Stones, by all means absorb as much of this as you can from this excellent 101 course. For everyone else, though, this film skips over all the really interesting stuff that happens for the band in the ‘80s and ‘90s which hasn’t been given nearly the focus it deserves. Morgen makes a break for the exit right around 1979 when the band is forced to play a benefit concert for the Canadian Institute For the Blind thanks to Keith Richards getting busted with heroin. From there we fast forward to the present day, skipping over eight or so studio albums and a whole period where their output is not exactly seen as “high quality”. I think not digging into those years is a mistake.
I’m not sure that Mick and the boys would weather a granular breakdown of Bridges to Babylon, but their toe-dip into the world of disco on Emotional Rescue would be fascinating to hear them look back on as elder statesmen at least. History is written by the winners, and the Stones are undisputed heavyweight champions of the world, if only for having kept it together as long as they have, but there’s just so much more to them than the twenty years that most music nerds already know really well. This would have been the perfect first half of a two-part film series is all I’m saying is all, but what a first part of a sadly non-existent duology it is.