When Mick Jagger contacted Brett Morgen about making a fiftieth anniversary documentary on The Rolling Stones, the filmmaker rightfully believed Mick wanted a series not unlike the great Beatles Anthology. Not so. Mick was very emphatic about wanting a lean, under-two hours documentary. Why the hip shaker wanted to place such a ridiculous constriction on such a bountiful history is anyone’s guess. This left Morgen with the task of condensing five decades of dirty work and eighty hours of audio interviews down to 110 minutes. I don’t envy the dude, yet as a hardcore Stones freak I can’t be anything but disappointed with Crossfire Hurricane.
No use crying over the miniscule running time. It’s how Morgen chose to fill it that I find inadequate. He condenses the band’s story down to a handful of overly familiar tales: Mick and Keith’s first songwriting efforts, the Redlands bust, Brian Jones’s death, Altamont, Keith’s heroin issues, the band’s self-imposed exile from England, Mick Taylor’s departure and Ronnie Wood’s arrival, etc. What salvages the narration is having the Stones do it themselves, and it’s particularly enlightening hearing Mick and Keith talk about being scared during the Altamont insanity and Mick discuss Brian (his shocked exclamation of “fuck” after Morgen informs him that Brian died just two weeks after being fired from the band is an unexpectedly poignant moment).
The main problem of Crossfire Hurricane is that the guys’ chatter plays out over footage that makes “Satisfaction” seem like a long-lost outtake. Way too much of these 110 minutes are wasted with extended clips from readily available films such as Charlie Is My Darling, The T.A.M.I. Show, The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, One Plus One, Gimme Shelter, and Let’s Spend the Night Together. Eagle Rock Entertainment somewhat makes up for this by supplementing its DVD with choice unreleased live and TV footage from 1964 and 1965. However, these bonus features just shine further light on how the film could have comprised more exotic footage. Some of Morgen’s other choices are kind of questionable too, such as overlaying orgasm noises over Keith’s statement that being in the band was like an orgy or dropping pig oinks over Mick’s discussion of the hedonistic seventies. Still, it was smart on the director’s part to spend the vast majority of the film’s running time in the sixties (the eighties and beyond barely sneak in before the closing credits).
So, if a UFO lands on Earth tomorrow, and the aliens slither down the ramp and ask, “What are these Rolling Stones?” the president would not be out of order to show them Crossfire Hurricane. However, to proclaim that this doc “is and will remain the definitive story of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” as the liner notes of this DVD does, is ludicrous. At least, I hope it is, because I’m gonna hold out for a truly all-encompassing, anthology-style documentary on The Rolling Stones until I croak.
Get Crossfire Hurricane on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com here: