Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Strife of Brian

STONED (2005) 
SHINE A LIGHT (2008)

Scene of the crime? In November 1968, Brian Jones became the owner of Cotchford Farm - a 16th century six-bedroom, three-storey abode set in 11 acres of land in Sussex.

DIRECTED by Stephen Woolley, STONED is the story of the inevitable premature death in 1969 of The Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones (played by Leo Gregory). Within the seven intervening years from The Stones formation, Jones’ increasing liability saw Mick Jagger take the limelight by shouldering the bad-boy image. In reality, the lead singer was more cautiously cultivated, paving the way to big business. Although Jones was the archetypal shattered mirror of the 60s, there was no room for him in the increasingly shrewd canvas of The Rolling Stones world.

STONED uses the relationship between Jones and builder Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine) - hired to renovate his rock star retreat - as a counterbalance to the wild lifestyle he adopted right up to the point of his supposed “death by misadventure” in a swimming pool. Thorogood is at once drawn into and kept out of Jones’ pampered world; the Rolling Stone loafs brazenly in a haze of drink, drugs, women and effeminate finery, while exploiting the workers. In one scene, Jones demands a wall be built, rebuilt elsewhere and then built again in the original position. In another, Jones offers Anna Wholin (Tuva Novotny) to a disbelieving Thorogood in the spirit of free love, but when Wholin tires of the prank, Thorogood is left humiliated on the kitchen floor.

Brian Jones with Anita Pallenberg, one of the great 60s rock chicks. Her “evil glamour” moniker (a term used by Marianne Faithfull) encapsulates Pallenberg’s modelling and acting career. When she first met Jones at a Stones gig in Munich 1965, it was the start of a two-year relationship which saw the musician become increasingly abusive, drunk and paranoid.

The film draws from the basic mechanics of PERFORMANCE (1970); whereas the celebrated Donald Cammell/Nic Roeg release snares a working class gangster into the exotic trappings of a faded rock star - ironically played by Jagger - STONED sets up a similar clash of sensibilities between Jones and Thorogood. But Woolley’s work here is too simplistic, functional and clich├ęd, haunted by a weak script that leaves the likable performers nothing to work with; furthermore, its prurience towards the female cast serves little dramatic effect. Ultimately, it is difficult to show emotion over Jones’ death because the work does not contain any justification that he was either a great musician or a particularly compelling personality. Neither does it reveal much about his relationships with Keith Richards (Ben Whishaw) and Jagger (Luke De Woolfson), or offer anything other than a cinematic portrayal of the drowning.

The “death by misadventure” tag has never sat true, mainly because of the low levels of drink and drugs found in Jones’ system. Conspiracy theories fogged the story for many years, with some of the more lurid suggestions implicating Jagger in Faustian bargains. When Thorogood made a deathbed confession in 1993 (“It was me that did Brian”), it seemed to further trivialise the tragic event. Jones was the embodiment of the Swinging Sixties, but his Cotchford Farm residence was more than just an escape to the countryside; it was also a means to distance himself from London and The Stones, but not from his “lashing tail of paranoiacal fears,” referred to in an unrecorded song (Thank You) For Being There, the only known lyric Jones left behind. The musician’s mood swings were notorious (“a complicated couple of blokes” quipped Richards) and self-doubt plagued him to the end. In fact, as early as 1965, The Stones and manager Andrew Loog Oldham were already expressing doubts of Brian’s ability to cope with fame, Jones harbouring an all too transparent resentment of Jagger and Richards’ domination of his band.

SHINE A LIGHT sees The Stones milking their fame. In the film world, the group will be forever measured by GIMME SHELTER - the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of concert movies - but instead of Hells Angels and tripping hippies, the front row here is full of gym members and raised camera-phones.

Jump ahead thirty-nine years and we arrive at Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT. A vanity project documenting the second of two 2006 Stones-headlined charity benefits, both performances took place in upper Broadway’s Beacon Theatre, a vaudeville hall with a capacity of 2,800 (“a dolls house” comments Jagger). It is a wholly tepid Stones performance; we invariably get some high points (a riotous opening Jumpin' Jack Flash, a heartfelt Some Girls) to offset the low ones (truly rotten renditions of Shattered and Sympathy for the Devil), but it is the guest stars that add the real ballast. Jack White looking genuinely humbled to join Jagger for Loving Cup, but it is Buddy Guy’s electrifying Champagne and Reefer that steals the over-bloated show, a veneer light years away from any even lingering memories of Brian Jones.