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I don't tend to watch DVDs much as a rule. But a while ago, I was discussing the life and death of Brian Jones with a musician friend, and when I told him I had never seen 'Stoned', he recommended I get my hands on a copy. I'm glad I did.
Jones was the original founder, and in effect also the booking manager for the Rolling Stones in the early days. Although he was no songwriter, he was easily the most versatile musician among them, and soon progressed beyond guitar and harmonica with an amazing ability to master pretty well any instrument he got his hands on. Unfortunately a flawed personality and self-destructive streak led him into a downward spiral. After being charged several times with drugs offences, he died in as-yet unexplained circumstances at the age of 27 in 1969. This film, based partly on the recollections of others who were close to him at the time, suggests how it probably happened.
Leo Gregory - Brian Jones
Paddy Considine - Frank Thorogood
David Morrissey - Tom Keylock
Tuva Novotny - Anna Wohlin
Amelia Warner - Janet Lawson
Monet Mazur - Anita Pallenberg
The film opens with a few seconds of Jones, in a telephone kiosk in 1963, checking to confirm a booking he had made for the band, while the rest of them are waiting on the opposite side of the road for him to give them the thumbs-up. From that it cuts to the opening credits, filmed in black and white, of a lookalike and soundalike Rolling Stones performing 'Little Red Rooster', their most anti-commercial, daringly bluesy A-side - and in spite of that a No. 1 single in 1964 - at the Marquee Club, one of their major venues in the early days. Then we are taken to that final scene at the swimming pool in the grounds of Jones's house at Cotchford Farm, Sussex, one night in July 1969, and a series of flashbacks as to what must have been going through his head - the music, the band, the girls and the sex.
Approx 1hr 38 min long, the film is not exactly a biopic. There are only very brief portrayals of Jones with the band, such as one of him in the recording studio where he is passing out while under the influence of drink or drugs, the rest of them and the manager exasperated with his total inability even to play a note on his instruments. Another shows him in Morocco, on the memorable occasion when his then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg dumped him for Keith Richards and they left him without warning to find his own way back to England. As a reminder of what he was like as a teenager, there is also a brief scene, shot like the Marquee performance in black and white, of the teenage schoolboy Jones being struck by his furious father for getting a local girl pregnant and then daring to suggest they could have the child aborted.
It might have been as well, for the viewer who isn't a long-term Rolling Stones fan and doesn't know the story well, to explore a little further the growing differences between him and the rest of the group which resulted in his becoming alienated from them, and their increasing sidelining of the original catalyst who had in their eyes long since become disposable, to put it bluntly.
Otherwise, most of the drama centres on the last few months or so when Jones was finding a new role for himself as a country squire at Cotchford. Several accounts say that at this stage in his life he was making a serious effort to get himself off drugs and cut down on the alcohol, while he considered his musical future. Three of the Stones appear briefly at one stage, with Watts standing by quietly while Jagger and Richards tell him bluntly that he is fired, as they need to tour America and he would not get a visa because of his convictions - but he will get a generous pay-off. In fact, he had more or less made up his mind to leave what had once been his band anyway. Significantly, Jones is not seen even picking up an instrument during the film, except to play an old Robert Johnson blues song on a small keyboard in the swimming pool after it has been drained.
Probably the second most important character in the film is Frank Thorogood, a builder hired by Jones to carry out some renovations in the garden. Thorogood was a working-class lad who apparently despised Jones as a middle-class hippie poseur, and was irritated almost beyond endurance by Jones's continually changing his mind. At one stage he orders a partly-built garden wall to be removed, so Thorogood and his men smash it down, only to be told by their employer that it was all right where it was after all. Even so, Jones is seen reminiscing self-pityingly with him about the past. (Whether he would really have done this with an employee who probably hated his guts in real life is debatable, and perhaps stretches credibility a little). But he proves a shockingly bad payer to his workforce. When the builders try to persuade Tom Keylock, the Stones' driver who has come to keep an eye on Jones as an unofficial minder, to get their money for them, he promises to do his best but fails. Eventually, Jones tells Thorogood he is a hopeless builder and fires him, but the latter refuses point blank to leave without the cash. It will surely make you smile when an aerial shot of the garden with the builders going about their work is accompanied by an edited version of the Small Faces' 'Lazy Sunday' playing in the background.
According to the theorists, and also to a rambling deathbed confession by Thorogood nearly thirty years later when he admitted to murdering Jones, by sacking him the latter wrote his own death warrant. The testimony of others who were at Cotchford, such as Jones's Swedish girlfriend of the time, Anna Wohlin, and the nurse Janet Lawson (both of whom are portrayed in major roles in the film), is not clear-cut, but between them they suggest that there was some horseplay in the swimming pool on the fatal night which got out of hand. Prone to asthma attacks and possibly with alcohol in his system Jones, normally a strong swimmer, went under the water too long and respiration failed to save him once he was hauled out.
I don't think this counts as a spoiler. As with films on the Titanic and on John F. Kennedy, nearly everyone who is interested knows more or less what happened.
HOW GOOD OR ACCURATE IS IT?
Reviews elsewhere suggest that this film is brilliant, or it's OK, or even a few think that it's a total waste of time. While it's not flawless (what movie is?), I was personally very impressed. Leo Gregory is superb as Jones, a perfect lookalike, portraying the alternating self-confidence and self-pity of the wayward musician, while Paddy Considine comes across well as the outwardly patient but inwardly brooding, contemptuous Thorogood, and David Morrissey as Keylock, the hard man with whom nobody in their right mind would argue, is excellent. So I can't really take issue with the casting.
One of the special features is an audio commentary by director Stephen Woolley for the complete picture, discussing how and why he did such and such a thing. It was several years in the making, and he makes clear that his research was carried out thoroughly. Some of the characters portrayed, including Keylock, were consulted while the script was being written. I'll resist the temptation to say he left no stone unturned. One point Woolley emphasises is that the other Stones are deliberately only seen fleetingly. The film is about Jones, and on their rare appearances on-screen the others get no more than a line or two (of dialogue, not of cocaine) between them. There are also a few deleted scenes, about 30 minutes' worth, with optional commentary.
The film contains a small amount of nudity, as well as a few bedroom scenes, a certain amount of drug use and some strong language.
As a drama, and an evocation of the late 1960s, it succeeds brilliantly for me. I have read several books on the band, and on the life and death of Jones. Some of the witness statements made to police while the death was being investigated will not be made public until 75 years afterwards, apparently because there are too many details about their sex lives. While we will never know for certain what exactly happened - was it an accident, or was he really murdered - most of what is portrayed on-screen seems quite credible.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
This film shows the story and build up to Brian Jones' death in a different light. Apparently this was made following 10 years of research into the subject including a lot of private discussions with Anna Wohlin who is sure he was killed. The man accused of the murder, builder Frank Thorogood is even said to have admitted it on his death bed, suspicious to say in the least or maybe just a ploy to get a film made about him after he popped his clogs! After all, this film is just as much about Thorogood as it is Jones.
To say that so much research went into it, it's a surprise that it's put together so sloppily. Leo Gregory is annoying as Brian Jones, although it was said that was Jones personality, there's just something very strange about the acting. Frank Thorogood is not an interesting enough character although I do like Considine's acting in several other films, from what I've seen from a newspaper clipping of the builder, they look nothing alike either. The whole story is shown quiter shoddily and almost seemingly tongue-in-cheek, there's little if any of The Stones' music being played but some of the soundtrack is periodic and good.
This could be made into a much more exciting film, the story line surrounding the Rolling Stones original leading band member could be made so much more interesting but instead plods along with rather menial shots and conversations. The film is a good idea but just doesn't work at all.
Stoned is the dramatisation of the demise of Brian Jones, Rolling Stones guitarist. There have been lots of theories on the hows, whys and wherefores of his 'accident'. Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool shortly after he was dumped from the Rolling Stones band in 1969.
Was it suicide? Was he murdered? Was there a cover up? This is one a the world's great mysteries and joins the ranks of Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix. Each of these has multiple versions of their end circulating in popular conspiracy theory.
This film doesn't do much to reveal the true facts either. It is basically correct in a historical sense but the fine details are neither clear, nor consistent and it takes the view that Jones was murdered. The story is not very well written.
Paddy Considine plays the builder who is taken on by to make alterations and repairs to Jones' country estate and house. He gets heavily involved in the guitarist's luxury lifestyle and ends up staying longer than he intended. All this time Jones is flying around the world in search of drugs and sex. He ends up in Marrakesh.
Leo Gregory who is a Jones look-alike plays the guitarist. The acting is poor, trance like and doesn't make any impact. Gregory is simply 'there' and that's all that can be said about him. We don't get an indication of what Brian Jones was really like. Other look-alike actors play members of the bad but they only have a few lines between them.
The whole film seems to struggle with the plot and is so weak in parts that it's a wonder it goes on so long . 102 minutes is too much for what's there.
Producer-director Stephen Woolley does what he can with the material and manages to extract some background mood, and a little atmosphere from the cast. The authentic clothes (when the actors wear any, as there's lots of nudity) and the accessories help to make the film feel and look authentic.
Personally I enjoyed the authentic clothes and the music and it was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me, even though the detail in the story isn't very good. Worth watching if you are into The Rolling Stones and you remember them from way back in the late sixties, but you only get the basics. The film would have been much better if the Stones had agreed to let the producers have the music rights.
Luke de Woolfson
Director: Stephen Woolley
Intandem Films/Audley Films/Number 9 Films/National Lottery UK Film Council-Vertigo Films
Released: 18th November 2005
(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
Question: What do Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, JFK and Princess Diana all have in common?
Answer: People have formulated 'conspiracy' theories as to how they died.
While most of them don't really bear any serious examination in the case of Rolling Stones founder member Brian Jones who was found dead in his Swimming Pool in 1969 the verdict of death by misadventure does seem a little more debatable than many of the others.
'Stoned' a film by first time director Stephen Woolley better known for being producer to such diverse offerings as 'The Company Of Wolves', 'Letter To Breshnev' and 'Interview with the Vampire' was a real labour of love. The research undertaken by Woolley took over ten years to compile and included interviews and testimonial and official statements of those people involved in the last few tragic months in the life of Brian Jones.
The film specifically deals with Brian Jones' last few months alive when he was based in a farmhouse in Sussex. At this stage he had developed a serious drugs and alcohol problem and suffered from bouts of paranoia and depression. He could no longer function properly as a member of the Rolling Stones a band he had been fundamental in creating and inevitably his inability to function properly led to his dismissal from the group by the other key members Richards and Jagger. Around this time Jones was living with his Swedish girlfriend Anna, he befriended a local builder Frank Thorogood who he had engaged to refurbish the farmhouse. Jones and Thorogood had a strange relationship as the bohemian Jones introduced the straight-laced Throrogood to drug taking and the idea of 'free love'. Thorogood soon became taken in by Jones and he moved into a flat over the farm's garage. The drugs binges became ever more frequent and the high damaging relationship was bound to lead to disaster, Thorgood becoming directly implicated in Jones's death on the 2nd July 1969. Although the film concentrated on this later period of Jones life we see through a series of flashbacks events from the past that Woolley has interpreted as being pivotal in what eventually happened to Jones. The most important of these feature his highly charged relationship with Italian born actress and model Anita Pallenberg.
Woolley it seems to me approached the film from two differing stand points, firstly he wanted to be as far as possible truthful to real life events based on what information he had gathered and secondly to lend more credibility to his version of the story he strove to get a sense of realism and period accuracy in the look of the film.
'Stoned' did not fair well critically but I found it a better movie than I had been led to believe. It fails in many aspects but it is a worthy attempt at getting to the truth of the death of one of the most colourful characters in 60's pop culture.
The fact that the remaining Stones wanted nothing to do with the project was a big blow to the film and meant that no original Stones recordings could be used in the soundtrack. Woolley has tried to make up for this by using other music of the period to set the scene including The Small Faces, Traffic, Jefferson Airplane to be fair the soundtrack is not that bad even though some of the stones songs featured are performed by tribute band the Counterfeit Stones and English indie rockers The Bees but however good these versions are in the end a film about a Rolling Stone needs the music to go with it and you do feel a bit cheated that originals are not included.
One interesting point to mention is the similarity of the film to Nic Roeg's 1970 film 'Performance' which features a drug taking rock star Turner played by Jagger and his relationship with a east end gangster on the run hiding in his house played by James Fox. In that film Fox like Thorogood is soon corrupted by the rock star's bohemian lifestyle. The similarity is not accidental since in the making of 'Performance' Jagger's then girlfriend Marianne Faithful suggested to Jagger that he play the character like the recently deceased Jones and Woolley in 'Stoned' drew on Jagger's version of the character to produce Leo Gregory's version of Brian Jones. It is also interesting to note that Anita Pallenberg Jones' ex partner who became Keith Richard long term squeeze played Jagger's girlfriend in 'Performance' her role in that film was closely matched by Monet Mazur playing Anita Pallenberg in Stoned...are you still with me?
Despite the attention to detail (for instance many of Jones original outfits were reproduced for Leo Gregory to wear for the film) and the mainly historical accuracy of the events portrayed the films lack credibility and to my mind that is largely down to the central casting of Leo Gregory as Jones. It is difficult in biographical films for actors not to slip into simply giving a good impression of the character they are playing instead of trying to discover the truth behind the external character and showing us that on screen. Gregory's performance for me doesn't reveal the essence of Jones's character nor does he look the part. He never convinces as a good imitation of Jones or a good look-alike and the mop wig he wear rather tends to steal all the scenes.
I also have to question Woolley's portrayal of Jones as a rather misunderstood flawed but ultimately redeemable character. In real life Jones beat up his girlfriends (also alluded to in the film) and was generally an egotistical man who managed to alienate almost everyone he knew or cared for him by the time he was sacked from the band. What to some extent saves the film are the supporting performances by the other actors. Paddy Considine who impressed me previously when I saw him in Shane Meadow's wonderful 'A Room for Romeo Brass' once again gives a perfectly measured simmering performance as the disturbed Thorogood that is both entranced and jealous of the freethinking and free acting Jones. David Morrisey is solid as the beleaguered manager Tom Keylock and Monet Mazur is very convincing as Pallenberg who realises that Jones is out of control, always difficult for an actress to give a strong performance in a film when she spend most of the time flashing her bits but Mazur manages it.
Which brings me nicely to the subject of sex.
As you can imagine (or maybe some of the more innocent amongst you can't) there was a lot of it going on in the 60's rock star circles that Jones, Jagger et al frequented and not surprisingly there's quite a lot going on in this film too. The sex and nudity is never too explicit as the 15 certificate suggest but there are full frontal nude shot both male and female and some sexual violence.
Woolley's search for accuracy and realism extended to the way the movie is filmed and in the flashback sequence particularly there are some scenes captured on hand held camera which give a documentary feel to the action. The film is certainly interesting to look at and whilst ardent Stones fans might find fault with the depictions of their musical heroes overall the film did give an essence of the time.
In conclusion I would say don't believe all the critics on this one. Certainly it is not a masterpiece but as a interesting if flawed attempt to get to some kind of truth about Jones and the events of that tragic night almost thirty years ago the film has some merit. Couple this with some good performances from Considine and others and the film is more than watchable. If the central performance from Gregory had been more thoughtful and less of a parody I think the film might just have succeeded in that most difficult of genre the rock biography.
Technical details and boring bits...
Leo Gregory ... Brian Jones
Paddy Considine ... Frank Thorogood
David Morrissey ... Tom Keylock
Ben Whishaw ... Keith Richards
Tuva Novotny ... Anna Wohlin
Amelia Warner ... Janet
Monet Mazur ... Anita Pallenberg
Luke de Woolfson ... Mick Jagger
Stoned was directed by Stephen Woolley and written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.
The film has a runtime of 102 minutes and a UK certificate of 15 mainly for some sex scenes and drug taking.
It is available on DVD from Play.com for £6.99 delivered at the time of this review.
Not quite recommended but maybe worth a go if you are interested in The Rolling Stones.
© Mauri 2007