Stones in Exile
The making of a classic album
The documentary Stones in Exile is a photo album of
motion pictures from the era and the album, interspersed with recollections
from the Stones and their entourage plus celebrity commentary. Producer Don Was
thinks the album “altered the vocabulary of record making” and Martin Scorsese
says the music echoed the “sense of being exiled—you can’t go home.”
Right they are,
but the home-movie snippets from the session, ragged and disordered as the
music they capture, are the real reason for watching. Director Stephen Kijak
kept a tight focus on his loosely gathered material; Stones in Exile is a snappy, informative 60-minute film with no
fluff (except perhaps for a couple of the contemporary celebrities).
The album’s title
referred to the Stones’ money troubles; breaking with their manager and
dismayed over falling into a 93% tax bracket in the United
Kingdom, the band slipped into a comfortable sojourn in
the south of France.
Exile on MainStreet was recorded in the basement of Keith Richards’
Mediterranean villa, a dark warren of rooms where the power often failed and
the humidity put the guitars out of tune. The sessions ran for months at any
hour of the day or night in a process of gradual accretion and happy accident.
For Richards, the lazy, druggy evolution of the tracks felt ideal. He was at
home, literally and metaphorically. But one suspects that Mick Jagger began
drumming his fingers after a while, impatient to find the final chapter. As
Richards wittily put it, “Mick is the rock, I’m the roll.”
After a while,
Richards must have been the only participant having a good time. Charlie Watts
found the session increasingly “stressful.” According to Richards’ lover Anita
Pallenberg, “the whole thing disintegrated when we got heavily into drugs”
(i.e. heroin). Bill Wyman complained that someone snuck into the villa, stole
the guitars, “and no one noticed—that’s how loose and stupid it was.”
But the decadence
in the decaying mansion by the sea resulted in great music, enabled not so much
by drugs as the Stones’ deep absorption into the roots of rock ’n’ roll in
blues and country. The careless atmosphere encouraged sparks to fly, and many
of them caught fire. Stones in Exile
reflects the heat of those moments.
8:30 p.m. June 21, Times Cinema. Free admission.