More than a few times I've been accosted with the proclamation, "You're either a Beatles man or a Stones man." Generally, I've been adamant about my pro Beatles position, however, for the better part of my life I had never heard of Brian Jones. Had his name rang in conjunction with the legendary rock group he founded, I'd probably have second thoughts.
STONED, the new film that journeys into the mind that breathed life into rock legends The Rolling Stones, focuses at that very ignorance and aims to reassess what we think we know about the band and Jones' suspicious death.
An intimate screening for an intimate portrayal, the Tribecca Grand Hotel in New York City held a private showing with all the key players in attendance. Prior to the show, director Stephen Woolley, producer of such works as Interview With a Vampire and Breakfast on Pluto, said it was the "sinister nature of the murder" that drew him into the project. Woolley, completely exceeding the role of a producer, delved into his own investigative journey of the events that led up to the demise of Brian Jones. He saw holes in the existing interpretations of the story and sought out the missing characters who hadn't previously commented on the story to date, like Anita Pallenburg, Jones' dark mistress. After being fully immersed in the story and newly compiled evidence, Wholley said it "felt natural" to make this film his directorial debut.
We've all seen the rock group movie, involving young, brash musicians with lofty dreams of stardom, the lucky break and the rise to power montage. It's a formula and it's boring. Luckily, this is NOT one of those movies. The only performance scene in the picture depicts The Stones belting out the blues classic "Little Red Rooster" in all its desperate glory. The drums march to the tune of an impending storm and the story begins at the end. Brian Jones lays face down in a pool and shards of split images flash the screen introducing characters, emphasizing memories, unfolding a mystery, and beckoning the audience to walk down the spiraling staircase of the last three months of Brian Jones' life.
No cliche generalities can be placed in this story (okay... except the drug induced "White Rabbit" scene). This story isn't about band X struggling to keep themselves together in the hard face of fame. The film focuses on Jones in his secluded kingdom which inevitably becomes his coffin. The audience is introduced to this man, who seeming has everything, through a carpenter named Frank Thorogood who was hired to finish Jones' castle. Jones' life until that point is played as flashback waltzes where we see most of The Rolling Stones and Jones' wild, infamous antic. It's as much a film about the boredom of happiness as it is a legend of rock & roll.
On music, Stephen Woolley gave one main inspiration that saturated the film's soundtrack with covers from Band of Bees and the 22-20s - Robert Johnson. Johnson was one of the key influences that brought rhythm and blues to legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, and of course, the Rolling Stones. Because the focus of film is "music to murder to" and the madness of Brian Jones, Woolley said a soundtrack of hit Stones tracks would be "disingenuous."
The visual style of the film was as inspired by the '60s as the story itself. Woolley and cinematographer John Mathieson, who has done much camera work for Ridley Scott, decided on a specific palette that combined old '60s film stock and vintage camera equipment. The muted blacks, bleeding reds and hot whites breathe validity to the story. The audience is thrown from 35mm to 16mm to 8mm practically seamlessly. No attempt I've seen in a movie meld old footage into the storytelling as daringly and successfully as this visual concept. In the face of chemical advancement of color and texture, this film dates itself for the sake of its purpose and believability. The director stands firm in his bold stylistic choice, saying to the intimate audience, "You may not like it, but we did it on purpose."
That mentality might damage the film's chances of reaching the vast audience who know little about Jones or his role in the Rolling Stones, a band that would become the longest running touring band of all time, as well as one of the most critically hailed and commercially successful. However, the film as a whole rewards those who seek a brief glimpse of madness and the fierce struggle between sex, drugs and (you guessed it) rock & roll.