Docaviv 2024: The Stones and Brian Jones; Catching Fire

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The Stones and Brian Jones/Photo: Getty Images

Rocking hard into their seventh decade as a band, The Rolling Stones are on tour as I write these words, led by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, whose songwriting collaboration is one of the most successful and enduring in rock history. But although rock history remembers, contemporary audiences have all but forgotten multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, one of the band’s original founders, and its leader in the early years. Jones died on July 3, 1969, at age 27, just three weeks after he was kicked out of the band he founded; his meteoric rise and decline a mystery, a rock tragedy. Employing extensive archival footage and interviews with those who knew Jones intimately, in The Stones and Brian Jones, noted documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney 1998; Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love 2017) has created a striking and honest portrait of Jones as a musician and individual.

It was Brian Jones who gave the Rolling Stones their name, inspired by Muddy Water’s song Rollin’ Stone. Jones envisioned the band as a rhythm and blues band, teaming up with Jagger and Richards, they started out performing covers of American blues infused rock such as Chuck Berry’s Come On, and Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster. Growing up in a middle-class family, the relationship between Jones and his parents is an illustration of the generation gap, with Lewis Jones saying of his son that “his fanaticism for jazz music” was “a great disappointment”. Brian Jones left home in his late teens, finding refuge with the family of his then-girlfriend – a pattern he was to repeat throughout his life: becoming part of his girlfriend’s family, fathering a child of his own, and moving on, never staying around to raise the child. Several of Jones’ past girlfriends are interviewed in the film, including Pat Andrews, Dawn Molloy, Linda Lawrence (spouse of Donovan Leitch), and Zouzou. Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, offers insight into Brian Jones relationships with the other band members.

In the early 60s, Brian Jones, with his silky hair and musical vision, was perhaps the most prominent member of the band, and former Stones bassist, Bill Wyman relates that about 60% of the fan mail was addressed to Brian. Wyman’s contribution to the film is significant, as a member of the Stones from 1962 – 1993, he knows and remembers all the intimate details of the band, and its music. Wyman’s demeanor is very relaxed and he recalls the past, speaking openly, without any rancor towards Jones (who could be nasty in his teasing), detailing Jones’ contributions to the unique Rolling Stones sound (playing the recorder on Ruby Tuesday, sitar on Paint it Black).

Most exhilarating, and revealing, almost telling the story on their own, are the clips of archival footage from the Stones concerts. The madness of the crowd, screaming, rushing the stage and trying to grab at the musicians is reminiscent of the delirious ecstasy of the Bacchae. Just one look at Mick Jagger – even in those early days when he is relatively passive onstage, playing the maracas – is enough to understand his explosive presence and visceral, heart-pounding impact on the crowd. It was inevitable that Jagger would become the front man of the Stones, a shift that was more deeply felt as the writing partnership between Jagger and Richards developed. Broomfield’s film is a must-see, not only for fans of the Rolling Stones, in its depiction of a band’s trajectory, an era of change, and a fascinating character study.

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg/Photo: SK Global Entertainment

As I watched The Stones and Brian Jones, I felt that in the background of that film there was another film with stories that have not been told. In his brief life, Jones fathered five children, raising none of them. I wondered about those women, left to contend on their own with an unplanned pregnancy at a time when society’s norms dictated a harsh stigma on “unwed mothers”. What was like to have a relationship with a rock star, and how did it feel once all that was left of the stardust was dust? Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, directed by Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill, tells one aspect of that story, and more. The documentary benefits from ample sources, including archival footage, film clips, and interviews with her children Marlon and Angela, Volker Schlöndorff (who directed her in A Degree of Murder), childhood friend Metka Kosak, Marianne Faithful, and Keith Richards. Yet what makes the film stand out is Anita Pallenberg’s perspective on her own life, from her unpublished memoir, found by her children after her death. The film presents Pallenberg in her own words, alongside other sources, with Scarlett Johansson narrating from the memoir, which Pallenberg describes as “A traveler’s tale through a landscape of dreams and shadows.”

Anita Pallenberg was a beautiful, strong, woman, coming into adulthood at a time when women’s options were typically very limited. Born to a German-Italian family in 1942, her early childhood was spent in Rome, marked by World War II. Describing herself in an early interview as a “wild child” and “rebellious” she began her career as a model, and in those travels met Brian Jones. The mutual attraction was immediate, and Pallenberg came into Jones’ life just as his status in the bad was becoming shaky, and his personal life was feeling the impact. She brought style and vivacity, giving Jones a second wind, but the whirlwind romance soon created its own storm. Psychedelics were in fashion, Jones and Pallenberg began doing acid, and as a result, she stopped modeling saying, “you couldn’t do both, and I loved acid.” Although the Jones-Pallenberg relationship is mentioned in Broomfield’s film, the version in Catching Fire is grittier and messier. The Stones were plagued by drug busts and tax issues, amphetamines had a negative impact on Jones (whose health was otherwise compromised as well), and Marianne Faithful describes the violence that erupted within the relationship. At the same time, Keith Richards was “bursting in love” with Anita.

The film follows Pallenberg’s relationship with Richards, through the extremes of rock stardom, three pregnancies, and heroin dependency. As their son Marlon relates, there was a period of three years in which they moved 20 times. The film is unsparing in its description of the collision course of drugs and rock, with a chilling scene of Keith Richards performing onstage, just after he has been informed of the death of his infant son. Pallenberg’s voice, mediated by Scarlett Johansson, is central to the film, inviting empathy in her honesty, as she recalls, “I slid further into the depths of heroin addiction I thought the children wouldn’t want to know me anymore.” Yet as the film reveals, Pallenberg was to have a second act, and that possibility is a testament to her strength and resilience.

The Stones and Brian Jones and Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg will be shown at Docaviv – the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival. Screening times, tickets, and the full program are available on the Docaviv website.

 

The Stones and Brian Jones

Directed by Nick Broomfield

United Kingdom/2024/93 min/English and French with English subtitles

 

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg

Directed by Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill

United States/2023/112 min/English, Hebrew & English subtitles

 

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