The Rolling Stones weren’t always in the public favour, as this raw and entertaining biopic reminds us. Before they were a global institution, they were cocky teens who played blues covers. Then they became idols whose music and swagger tapped into the youthful dissatisfaction of the 60s. As the footage shows, they caused carnage wherever they played. Crossfire Hurricane takes us back to these exciting, woozy years and attempts to decipher what it was about them that captured the zeitgeist. But not even the band, bewildered by all the attention, can really articulate it. Asked by uptight British journalists why they’d become so successful, the young Stones are endearingly at a loss.
Their wild ride to fame is captured in striking, previously unseen footage: excited fans intruding on their sets and chasing them down the street, boyish Mick and Keith jamming relentlessly on the road, and most visceral of all, their doomed performance at the San Francisco Altamont festival, where acid-taking Hell’s Angels members provided the security, and a fan was stabbed to death.
Music fans will hanker to see more of their creative process but the tight narrative keeps it at a minimum. But it’s still clear the band have always taken themselves and their music seriously, while giving the fingers to virtually everything else. You could even say a little more sense is made of their notorious drug-taking – as Richards narrates over footage of them recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France, their habits were as much about keeping them awake for long periods to write and record music as they were about the highs.
Not all survived of course. The film also covers the sad demise of Brian Jones, and covers his replacement Mick Taylor and the flamboyant Ronnie Wood years.
Footage of the band at a recent performance jars with the hippy exuberance of Jagger in his pretty youth, and hammers home their amazing, timeless appeal.