“Mick needs to know what he’s going to do tomorrow. Me, I’m just happy to wake up and see who’s hanging around. Mick’s rock, I’m roll.” – Keith Richards
I have posted before about my fascination with the Rolling Stones, specifically the period they spent living in France as tax exiles from Britain making Exile On Main Street, surely one of the greatest rock records of all time. Stones In Exile, directed by Stephen Kijak and released in 2010, explores this period with archive footage and photographs, and voiceover interviews with the cast of characters in the present day.
The film starts with a motley assortment of modern musicians and singers talking about the Stones and Exile On Main Street. When I saw Sheryl Crow, Benicio Del Toro and Will i Am onscreen my heart sank – “please don’t let this be uninformed lesser-talented artists whose opinions I have no interest in waxing lyrical about the Stones and their influence.” But strangely these interviews merely bookend the film and it would have been a lot better without this incongruous inclusion.
The real meat of the story is told by the members of the band and their entourage at the time: Anita Pallenberg, saxophonist Bobby Keys, photographer Dominique Tarle, label man Marshall Chess, engineer Andy Johns, and many more. The documentary captures the hedonistic and intensely creative atmosphere at Villa Nellcôte, the house that Richards rented near Villefranche-sur-Mer which became the recording studio for the duration of that summer in 1971. The band would commute to the villa from their various locations around the south of France and stay there for days, recording in the basement. The interviews with Richards and Jagger give great insight into their creative process at the time. Most songs started out as a loose jamming session and the band would often work for days before they turned into a recognisable song. On the floors above them the party went on, people dropping in and out, drug use open and rampant, alcohol ubiquitous, a haze of hash smoke hanging over everyone.
Stones in Exile is only an hour long and yet it is comprehensive and gives a real insight into a time in rock history that has been extensively mythologised, however the dark side of this period has been somewhat glossed over in the documentary. Hard drugs are mentioned but the toll they took on Richards and Pallenberg in particular is not explored fully. I guess you’d need a much longer documentary for that plus the controlling hand of Mick Jagger would have to be absent.
If you have any interest in the Stones, in this particular album, or just in rock music generally, this is a must see documentary.