DVD Review: The Rolling Stones "Stones in Exile"

DVD Review: The Rolling Stones "Stones in Exile"
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To avoid paying exorbitant taxes in their native England, the Rolling Stones moved to the south of France in 1971, following the release of Sticky Fingers. It was not a proud moment for a band that left home with their tales between their legs, knowing that their street cred was about to take a serious hit. Still, it’s hard to blame them. The English tax laws were going to take pounds and pounds of their flesh, and had they stayed and settled up, the Stones, rock and roll’s dark princes, wouldn’t have had a pot to piss in, or so they claim.

But evading taxes is hardly a cool thing to do. That’s something card-carrying members of the Establishment attempt, isn’t it? Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Stones did the wise thing and reluctantly, and almost shamefully, went on semi-permanent holiday. Something good did come out of it, though, and that was Exile on Main Street, perhaps the most mythologized album in the history of pop music, and one of the best ever made by anybody, including the sainted Beatles. And, as an added bonus, the tales of excess and degradation that came out of the Nellcote villa, the decaying mansion where Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg tried to play family in a sleepy, hazy atmosphere of sex, drugs and rock and roll, only served to rehabilitate the Stones’ outlaw image.

“Stones in Exile,” the hour-long visual accompaniment to the recent reissue of Exile, revisits the making of a record that was initially misunderstood before everyone figured out that it was a work of artistic genius and it does so with beautiful, intelligent editing that doesn’t get in the way of what is a compelling story. As Mick Jagger says, while back at Olympic Studios, where the groundwork for Exile was laid, talking about recording sessions is boring. “Stones in Exile” splits the difference, providing just enough real insight about the technical side of things to appease those who care about such things, while wonderfully re-creating the laissez-faire environment that led to Exile’s black magic, this album of dissolute beauty, a loose, shambolic shakedown of zombie-like gospel, drug-sick country and blues, and murky rock with undertones as scary and dangerous as voodoo.

True, it’s a cliché. But, this definitive documentary, with its well-placed pieces of vintage still photography of the Stones, period film from the infamous, and secretive, “Cocksucker Blues” movie and extensive variety of interviews with Exile survivors - all of the Stones, with Mick Taylor, included, plus Pallenberg, producer Jimmy Miller, engineer Andy Johns, the crazed, but exceedingly likeable, Texan saxophone player Bobby Keys - does put the viewer smack dab in the middle of Exile’s long, humid birth. You’re there in the kitchen and huge basement of Nellcote, watching the Stones deal with the region’s stifling summer heat, walls full of condensation and near constant equipment malfunctions, while improvising on the fly to overcome it all.

You’re in the famed mobile recording studio truck and its confined walls as the techies attempt the high-wire act of trying to record various Stones performing in different places inside the house. You’re in Richards’ massive bedroom, sleeping away the day and doing smack until going to work late at night and not coming out until morning, or even the afternoon, whether Mick was there or not. And, of course, you’re there lying on one of the exotic rugs, hung over after a long bender, among all the other hangers-on similarly affected, all of you wondering whether you should stay or go.

That’s just a small sampling of scenes from the tour of hell “Stones in Exile” guides you through. Above it all hangs that feeling of disconnectedness the Stones experienced while exiled from their homeland and there’s plenty of conversation about how much of that influenced the album. Tack on 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes bonus footage, with music heavyweights like the White Stripes’ Jack White, Don Was and Liz Phair, among others, offering praise and spot-on analysis of Exile’s virtues, and “Stones in Exile” succeeds as a slice of nostalgia, a history lesson and a work of art.

It’s already been a big year for Exile, what with the reissue and “Stones in Exile” being aired on NBC-TV’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and Fallon’s week-long celebration of Exile leading up to the event. Watch for the restoration and release of the 1972 concert film “Ladies And Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones” on Blu-Ray later this year, the result of a two-movie deal between the Stones and Eagle Rock Entertainment. Have you got Exile on Main Street fever yet?

-       -  Peter Lindblad

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