Classic Rock Corner

Rolling Stones Attempt to Tell Their Own Story On Crossfire Hurricane

The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane Eagle Rock, $14.98 DVD/$19.98 Blu-Ray, 147 mins.

Originally shown on HBO last year, Crossfire Hurricane is the latest release from the Stones camp to commemorate the band's 50th anniversary, and meant to be the definitive documentary on their career.

But what it ends up being is something a bit more interesting. It eschews the straight-biography format familiar to these rock docs ("and then...and then...") -- you won't hear Keith Richards regurgitating "I first Mick on a bus and he was holding some imported Chess LPs..." -- but instead takes on flashpoints in the band's incredible narrative.

The DVD is stuffed full of rare and unseen footage, much of it shot when the Stones were not "on." So when we see actual riots break out at their early shows with the band sprinting literally for their lives from the stage to waiting cars, it's not the happy-go-lucky jaunts the Beatles showed in A Hard Day's Night. In fact, the Stones always seemed to attract more danger and darkness than the Fabs.

"The Beatles got the white hat," Richards says in a voiceover about the much-discussed social comparisons between the groups. "What's left? The black hat."

Mick Jagger also discusses how he's played the "Mick Jagger character" over the decades, which may not be as close to the real person as many believe. Also interesting is footage of the formal and inane "press conferences" that the Stones (and every other band) had to endure in the days before there was a rock press with journalists who actually listened to and understood the music.

All six surviving Stones -- Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Ron Wood -- were newly interviewed for this doc, but only on audio; no video cameras were used.

Whether that was on purpose so as the current, older versions of the members didn't compete with their younger selves, or as a narrative decision so as to not constantly cut back to them and interrupt the flow of the film - it works. Like the Beatles' Anthology, is the members discussing their own story with no omnipotent Behind the Music narrator.

This being an authorized release, there is some whitewashing. While the sequences about the horrific Altamont concert and the dissolution of founding member Brian Jones into drugs and his death are gripping, bandmembers seem almost detached and dismissive discussing the topics. Would today's culture of celebrity rehab and rebirth been around then, Jones might still be around now.

Also, the Stones are shown on their 1967 Ed Sullivan Show appearance singing "Let's Spend the Night Together," with no mention that they famously bowed to pressure to sing "Let's Spend Some Time Together."

Taylor and Wood, Jones' replacements on lead guitar, have their say -- though it's clear the good-time yobboness of Wood meshed better, especially with Richards, in the lineup.

Crossfire Hurricane essentially skims the late '70s (nothing on the comeback of Some Girls) and ends in the early '80s, when the Stones were playing stadiums and at the height of their popularity. Thusly, it doesn't even touch on the last 30 years, save for a film-ending clip from the Shine a Light movie. Bonus features include rare TV appearances from 1964/65.

But with a band whose story is Shakespearian (or Sopranoesque) in characters, plot twists, and events of epic magnitude, writer/director Brett Morgan was wise to stay within his chosen timeframe. After all, who really wants to waste screen time discussing the band's Dirty Work instead of great concert footage or shots of Jagger snorting coke off a switchblade?

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero