There was only one place to be on Thursday 18, 2012; The Odeon cinema on Leicester Square, where the latest documentary on The Rolling Stones’ musical revolution, stage madness, unbelievable sex appeal and crossfire hurricane was screened for the first time, while broadcast live to 300 cinemas all over the world as part of the London Film Festival. And at a time when things don’t seem to be going right, one is instantly reminded that only utter dissatisfaction on every level — financial, sexual and philosophical — can ever bring the revolution much needed and anticipated, the same kind that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor got started fifty years ago. And with this realisation, today doesn’t feel so dismal and Brett Morgen’s Crossfire Hurricane achieves the perfect timing.
This is an archive-footage-based documentary throughout. Rare interviews, concerts and insightful moments from the band’s life together — everything is put together, while being discussed and narrated by all the six still-in-life members, providing just the perfect amount of information, ditching the gossip, leaving out all their personal life stories, focussing on the music and more than anything, the one-of-a-kind chemistry that The Rolling Stones share. Their story has no “Yoko“, no ending, nothing breaks them and nothing ever could; The Rolling Stones are about the rock ‘n’ roll, the awakening of a sleepy nation, the necessary uprising. Mick’s women, Keith’s crack, Charlie’s embarrassment of the circus, none of this is half as important as the band, so nothing can put an end to their story.
This is why Crossfire Hurricane will feel like work in progress for quite a few more years to come. Because the story hasn’t finished, so telling it in its entirety is just impossible. At the same time, this incomplete story is certainly better told by its own characters. For the most dedicated fans out there, the film will slightly disappoint for one reason. The fact that it finishes before it begins. Yes, the best of their music has already been made by the 1980s, but one of our favourite members has pretty much just joined. Ronnie Wood is the catalyst between the two strong egos and the two weak egos, as The Rolling Stones put it — his musical skills are extraordinary and without him, nothing, from Some Girls to A Bigger Bang, would be the way we know it. His time with The Rolling Stones is very briefly covered, and only his very first steps alongside Mick, Keith, Charlie and Bill are explored.
At the same time, the live performance material is painfully powerful, very sexually charged and just so stunning and momentous, that complaining feels wrong. It’s just that The Rolling Stones have spoiled their fans with so much incredible music and such mind-blowing performances, that no documentary could ever do this band justice. Even one produced, narrated and presented by them. For The Rolling Stones story to be effectively told, and their magnificence to be communicated even to a minor extent, there will need to be a 24-hour film made, which fully explores all the band’s phases and which of course features Mick completely naked on several occasions.
For the reasonable fans out there, Crossfire Hurricane is just right. It offers some fairly objective insight, makes Mick look like less of a diva and more of a talented performer, it discusses the rise while recognising no fall, it gets the blood pumping while historically and socially placing The Rolling Stones in the era that they supposedly belonged, at a time when revolution was the only way forward and frustration was bringing an entire generation closer together. Indeed, Brett Morgen’s documentary is a flawless work of art. It’s insightful, powerful, ground-breaking and sexually explosive. But then again, it tries to achieve the impossible and falls right into its own trap, as it restricts to words and pictures a band that is music and life. The Rolling Stones are a state of mind, and putting their story and impact into a two-hour-film is just as difficult as making a documentary on Christianity, Football or Woody Allen.