Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rock on Filim Part 17: STONED

If you like the 60s Stones who could be as exotic as rocking then you like the presence of Brian Jones. It's his dulcimer on Lady Jane, his sax on Dandelion, his blues harp on Not Fade Away, his recorder on Ruby Tuesday, his sitar on Paint it Black, the entire brass section on  Something Happened To Me Yesterday and so much more. While none of it counts as composition he should have been given some hefty arrangement credits for his work. The reason he wasn't is a complex one but ends with the band he formed squeezing him out for his steady degradation from bouffonted demi god to has been who fell from grace into a swimming pool and never got out again.

That could make for a sharp film on the joy and cruelty of fame and talent were it not for something in the way. Jones died young and was genuinely conspired against. The notion that he was murdered was never going to be far away and was in the air as soon as the news was, feeding on the fascination of anyone who came upon it. Finally, the chief suspect confessed on his deathbed and all the theorists danced around the Pole o' Vindication.

Why is this in the way? Doesn't that just make it more interesting? Maybe, but it would need to be as well orchestrated as some of Brian's contributions to the records. It isn't.

We open with a body in a pool visually swathed in a video mix of flashes of fame, groupies, rock and roll and swinging London. A lot of processing has gone into creating a kind of Oliver Stone quilt of different film stock and shooting style. When you remember that Stone gave this up in the same decade that he adopted it (the 90s) you'd be right to assume that it now just looks old. Not old as in authentic 60s. Old as in "is that really ready for a revival?" By the time you get to the familiar bolero percussion and languid guitar of White Rabbit during the first-trip scene you know that you are watching a film made of obsolete parts.

That would still not disqualify the endeavour from offering an engaging chapter of rock history but the insistence on showing the mounting collision of Jones with his continually taunted servant  prevents this from achieving any useful focus. Even the possible focus on the mooted killing might be interesting but isn't allowed more substance than a series of sign posts amid an increasingly directionless series of tableaux from the biographies and gossip books. Brian did this. Anita did that. Keith did that. Et cetera.

The thread of Jones's heavy disillusionment and the suggestion that it added to the self abuse that brought him lower and more seethingly embittered is quite strong. But every time it takes hook we are collared out to look at Frank Thorogood's domestic life or growing resentment at Jones's abuse of him. Whatever commitment there might have been to bring the tale to the screen it only shows as indecision in the final mix.

This is a pity as other aspects work well. Leo Gregory is believable as Brian Jones. His presence is marred by prop wig syndrome and his vocal seems entirely based on soundbites from contemporary interviews but he fills centre screen the way we want him to. Paddy Considine is perfect as the dour Thorogood, a funereal proletarian Cockney struggling with the rock star life style, burdened with resentment. David Morrissey channels the Michael Caine of Alfie but that works too. The stand ins for the Stones when we see them are well cast but need be little more than lookalikes. The women characters of Anna Wohlin and Anita Pallenberg are slightly promoted warm props which is uncharitable in a film that suggested its central character's twisted devotion to them. There are Performance-style moments involving them but these fizzle and it only made me wonder what Performance would have been like if Donald Cammell had had the power to finish it and cast Jones instead of Jagger. Never gonna know that one.

To quote a cover version that featured a cool and steady slide part from Jones, What a Shame.

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