Thursday, November 16, 2023

film review: The Stones and Brian Jones

Directed by Nick Broomfield

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are household names in 2023, but not Brian Jones. Only longtime Rolling Stones fans will know Brian Jones, who in a few years after founding the band was kicked out and found dead in his swimming pool in 1969.

Renown British documentarian Nick Broomfield has released a gripping film about this tragic figure that will impress both diehards and newcomers. The Stones and Brian Jones includes many extensive interviews with bandmates, lovers and friends, unseen footage and even a forgotten Jones song.

Broomfield nailed the right interviews. Stones' bassist Bill Wyman is the band's most reliable chronicler and the bandmate closest to Jones. Jones was a brilliant guitarist whose mission was to bring the blues to British then white American audiences. However, says Wyman, Jones was also cruel, driven by insecurities over his elfin stature and losing control of the band he founded to Jagger and Richards.

Jones was also charming and polite. He sweet-talked his way into the homes of families and impregnated their daughters (some less than 20). He sired at least five children. Two schools expelled him and his parents threw him out of their cozy, middle-class home in Cheltenham, England. The teenage Jones rebelled against his  strict parents who objected to his passion for jazz and blues. Their schism lies at the heart of this film.

Another key interview is Marianne Faithfull, the musician, actress and Jagger's lover in the mid-60s. Jones had "incredibly low self-esteem" and that relations with the two leading Stones were so bad "they would have killed each other." She refers to the infamous 1967 drug bust after Jones carelessly boasted to a journalist about his drug intake, but the newspaper mistook him for Jagger and nearly killed the Stones.

Jones was also a bastard. Ex-girlfriend Linda Lawrence recalls knocking on the door of his flat with their little boy in tow and begging Jones for more support money. Instead, Jones and his then-paramour Anita Pallenberg huddled inside and laughed at her predicament.

Pallenberg is a key character. Seen in archival footage (she died in 2017), Pallenberg transformed Jones and (with Faithfull) injected sophistication into a the yobbish Stones. The Italian-German model was wordly and fearless and looked like Jones' twin. However, Jones beat her and Pallenberg fled to Keith Richards. (One of the film's few flaws is that it allows filmmaker Volker Schlondorff to characterize Pallenberg as a gold-digger. This is false.)

Though his occasional voice-over is unnecessary, Broomfield has done an outstanding research job, unearthing audio interviews of Jones' father, heartbreaking family letters, a song Jones had co-written that's never seen the light of day, childhood photos and even old film footage of him gamboling around his schoolyard. French singer Zouzou, "Lady Jane" Ormsby-Gore, photographer Gered Mankowitz, band insider Prince Slash and TV director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Rock and Roll Circus) also weight in. Zouzou recalls that Jones "never" played Rolling Stones records at home (though spun the Beatles constantly). Broomfield's film untangles the psychological mess that was Jones, digging deeper than most chroniclers of the Stones.

Insecure, substance-addicted and self-destructive, Jones felt trapped being a Stone. To the world he was a rebel, but really he remained a little boy who sought his parents' approval and never got it. 

The Stones and Brian Jones will be released by Mongrel Media on November 17 in select cinemas across Canada, Apple TV and VOD.

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