Paraphrasing director Brett Morgen’s previous documentary about producer Robert Evans, the HBO doc “Crossfire Hurricane,” this 50th anniversary celebration of all things Rolling Stones, could well be subtitled The Band Stays in the Picture.
Remarkably, for a bunch of scruffy English kids who eschewed show business niceties, the self-dubbd world’s greatest rock band continues to be a major attraction a half century after starting out in 1962 at the Crawdaddy Club in the Station Hotel in Richmond, Surrey.
Morgen deftly juggles existing footage from the likes of previous docs like the recently re-released vintage ’60s black and white “Charlie Is My Darling,” the Maysles brothers’ “Gimme Shelter,” Godard’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Rock and Roll Circus,” “Ladies and Gentleman, the Rolling Stones,” Robert Frank’s long suppressed “C***sucker Blues” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light.”
The film concentrates mostly on the band’s first decade, supplemented by new interviews with original band members Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wyman as well as post-Brian Jones fill-ins Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood. The current-day incarnations are heard, not seen, foregoing our opportunity to compare their younger, fresh-faced, pouty selves with the grizzled, lined, elder statesmen they’ve become, but Morgen makes sure to show each individual whose comments accompany the archival footage, so that we know it’s the lecherous Bill Wyman who notices the water gushing down the theater aisles from the little girls who’ve wet their panties with what he pronounces as “you-riiine.”
What Keith calls “a fairy story” does maintain the force of myth though the early years, culminating in their mid-’60s breakthrough—the infamous drug bust at Richards’ Redlands mansion during a day-long acid trip; the dissolution and shocking death of Jones (as Jagger notes his final recorded contribution, we see Brian’s poignant slide guitar solo on “No Expectations,” just prior to a shot of him walking out of the session, alone, for the last time); the nightmare of Altamont, the self-imposed tax exile to France for the recording of Exile on Main Street, Keith’s Canadian drug bust, etc.
For the most part, “Crossfire Hurricane” offers up the Stones saga in straight-ahead, chronological biopic fashion, with the notoriously elusive Jagger letting his guard down in just a few cases, admitting he wished he’d found a way to work things out with Brian and revealing he never really knew why Taylor quit what seemed like a dream gig (the guitarist reveals his growing heroin addiction was the real reason).
The film abruptly jumps 30 years ahead from 1978 to 2008 for some closing scenes from “Shine a Light,” at least partially confirming every true Stones lover’s suspicion that the band has merely been living off past laurels. And that pretty much syncs up with Mick’s explanation of how they went from the dark Satanic majesties of the late ‘60s to the fun, party institution they’ve now become.
For all those who see the Stones now, “Crossfire Hurricane” is a reminder of why they’re still around—the charismatic chemical combustion of Jagger’s ability to entertain and economic major’s business acumen crossed with Keith’s rock and roll pirate’s heart has sustained them for a half century now, providing more than enough satisfaction to go around. Let’s all of us enjoy their victory lap. They—but especially we—deserve it.
The HBO presentation of “Crossfire Hurricane” is available with XFINITY On Demand, on your iPad, tablet, iPhone, and on xfinity.com/TV.