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The Rise and Fall of a Rolling Stone
Member Name: Mauri
Date: 10/09/07, updated on 25/06/10 (169 review reads)
Advantages: Some good performances and generally historically accurate
Disadvantages: Lack of original music and unconvincing central performance
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
Summary: The wild and wicked world of Brian Jones.