DVD Review: The Rolling Stones – Crossfire Hurricane

DVD Review: The Rolling Stones – Crossfire Hurricane
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

The Rolling Stones - Crossfire Hurricane 2013
Wherever Keith Richards goes musically, Charlie Watts is sure to follow. As bassist Bill Wyman explains in the documentary film “Crossfire Hurricane,” Watts has always played slightly behind Richards and Wyman would go out ahead of both of them, a style which gave the Rollings Stones’ gloriously ragged brand of rock ‘n’ roll a bit of a “wobble,” as he calls it. 

To Wyman, it’s this magical interplay that makes it seem as if the Stones, at their most shambolic, are constantly on the edge of falling completely apart.

That’s what made the Stones dangerous. It wasn’t necessarily the drugs, the villainous excess, their uninhibited sexuality or their supposed affinity for Satan, although that’s what the world outside the band’s inner sanctum thought. Internally, at least to Wyman, they teetered on the brink of utter chaos musically; that was what made them exciting and wild. A whole generation picked up on this barely controlled vibe, and they wanted to riot. The Rolling Stones lit the fuse.

If nothing else, “Crossfire Hurricane,” the newest career-spanning documentary (on DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment) on these pop-culture icons and rock ‘n’ roll revolutionaries, rather artfully captures the explosive zeitgeist of the Rolling Stones’ formative years and their Marquee Club meltdowns, when the band, for all intents and purposes, expected to be attacked nightly onstage by fans – causing concerts to end abruptly. And it segues seamlessly into the late ‘60s, establishing a somewhat tenuous, but undeniable, link between the Stones and the social upheaval of the time, with raw footage from “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus” thick with a heavy voodoo-like atmosphere while the band runs through “Sympathy for the Devil” – this island of feverish, hypnotically tribal rumblings surrounded by scenes of unrest, violence and fan worship.

And so goes “Crossfire Hurricane,” wandering through the last days of Brian Jones and his fading relevance into the Hyde Park triumph – that “baptism of fire” for Mick Taylor, as Richards puts it. From there, it moves on to Altamont and then to the Stones fleeing England for France for tax reasons and Richards’ heroin problem, before vaulting into the Stones’ metamorphosis from sinister miscreants to stadium-rocking party machine and it does so in a lithe, but ultimately superficial, manner, as if afraid to get bogged down in one subject or another. There appears to be a schedule to keep, and there’s no time to dilly-dally or study any particular period in Stones’ history with any sort of depth. Director Brett Morgen is running behind.

Current interviews with the Stones provide an oral history that speaks over the top of a mesmerizing, wonderfully arranged collage of vintage candid images and film footage of live performances, TV interviews, and behind-the-scenes peeks of the hedonistic Stones at play and at rest that seem positively voyeuristic. Some of it is familiar, like the “Dick Cavatt Show” intro, and some of it is has never been seen before, and the way it is all pieced together, “Crossfire Hurricane” puts the viewer right in the center of the Stones’ maelstrom, whether it’s taking place onstage, backstage or in the streets. And you get swept up in the current of it. There’s no sense trying to swim your way out of it. You’ll just drown in the fast-paced carousel of visual stimuli that spins away on screen.

Like the Stones themselves, “Crossfire Hurricane” is often on the verge of crumbling into mayhem, and that’s what makes it magnetic, the charisma and ennui of the Stones spilling out over each frame. Still, it does, as other reviewers have said, leave one wanting. To the filmmakers, the only Stones’ history worth exploring is everything that happened from Tattoo You backward, and maybe they’re right, but it the film does trail off without a real definite conclusion. And while everything up to and including Altamont is covered fairly extensively, that which happens afterward gets short shrift.

More than that, the commentary from members of the Stones that drives the narrative rarely offers much in the way of fresh perspective or revelation. They’re sorry for how things unraveled with Jones, but what were they to do? Drugs had left him a shell of his former self. Taxes in England were killing their bottom line, so they exiled themselves. Mick Taylor departed, taking the rest of the band aback. But, here comes Ronnie Wood, who was a better fit socially at least. That’s the level of discourse here, at least for the second half of the film, where “Crossfire Hurricane” runs out of steam and fails to latch onto anything of vital interest.

It’s worth watching – just for the scintillating live stuff alone, as a variety of spirited archival concert performances from the mid-‘60s are tacked on as bonus features and packaged with entertaining liner notes. Don’t expect, however, many new answers to nagging questions observers have always had about the Stones. 
– Peter Lindblad

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