The Stones and Brian Jones
(UK, 93 min.)
Dir. Nick Broomfield
Is there any stone left unturned in the seemingly endless parade of Rolling Stones documentaries? One can hardly imagine so, since even purportedly fresh angles feel like déjà vu. Nick Broomfield’s latest work in a series of music docs— including Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, Whitney: Can I Be Me, and Last Man Standing—The Stones and Brian Jones is a been-there, done-that retread of the great British rock band.
The doc tells the origin story of the Rolling Stones and its founding member who inadvertently began a new generation of the notorious 27 Club. Broomfield reflects upon how his death in 1969 cut short what could have been a great career. Broomfield doesn’t really look into that angle that Jones’ death marked a dark turn for stardom—aside from mentioning Jones’ friendship with Jimi Hendrix, who joined the club a year later. Instead, this is a typical warts-and-all music doc. The Stones and Brian Jones is made for fans by a fan.
The doc trots out an impressive range of archival footage for fans, and Broomfield needs it. The interviews are a mixed bag here with only bassist Bill Wyman adding a Stone’s perspective. Surviving members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards appear in voiceover with archival snippets. Late drummer Charlie Watts barely has any presence in the doc at all, even in the archives. The Stones’ absence, unfortunately, leaves a gap in Broomfield’s inquiry. There’s not much perspective from the band itself. Moreover, the Stones’ seeming indifference to the project suggests that there’s only so many Rolling Stones docs—and nostalgic music documentaries in general—that the same people can lend their time to.
Broomfield nevertheless assembles some of Jones’ former girlfriends and friends, like actress/singer Zouzou and Linda Lawrence, a mother to one of Jones’ children, who offer insights about the talented, if distributed, artist. Aside from Wyman’s interview, however, these contemporary conversations are awkward Zoom feeds. Add the familiarity of the material to the Zoom fatigue factor of cobbled-together pandemic docs, and Broomfield’s doc feels doubly stuffy.
Broomfield certainly knows his musical history, though. He narrates how Jones brought the Rolling Stones together by placing an ad in the paper. The director positions Jones as a tragic figure caught between generations. He tells how Jones aspired to bridge the blues and rock-n-roll, while Jagger and Richards caught the fast train of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll that electrified audiences. There are novel anecdotes about creative differences and tensions between young artists finding their voice, but few nuggets that will prove groundbreaking or illuminating for fans and non-fans alike.
Moreover, amid an endless sea of archival documentaries, there’s little spark to The Stones and Brian Jones. The editing doesn’t bring this material to life. Even though the Stones have lots of energy, Jagger especially, that doesn’t translate. Even the concert scenes evoke the sound of one hand clapping.
Anita and Nick Join the Party
The thrust of the drama, though, comes through Jones’ turbulent relationships with women, notably Anita Pallenberg. The film gains some energy, albeit with a layer of misogyny, when Broomfield and company talk about Jones’ mistreatment of women. The archival bits of Pallenberg and the singer truly evoke a toxic relationship. It’s unfortunate, though, that the stories about Jones’ contribution to the Stones’ music are less memorable. Jones made the band, but Broomfield’s film inadvertently suggests that the other members ultimately made the Stones’ music what is today.
There’s also a whiff of hagiography here as Broomfield recalls in voiceover how he met Jones on a train when he was 14. Admittedly, this aspect of the film comes as no surprise. Inserting himself into his narratives is a Broomfield signature. Recall how his fling with Marianne Ihlen serves as a hinge in Marianne & Leonard. When it works, it really works, but when it doesn’t, it proves tedious. The Stones and Brian Jones falls into the latter category, unfortunately, because the narration provides such a clear filter of fandom. Those who love the Rolling Stones will probably enjoy the trip down memory lane with Broomfield, but there are also many better docs about the band for fans and casual viewers to learn more—and rock out even harder.