In celebration of their half century together, The Rolling Stones commissioned filmmaker Brett Morgen ('The Kid Stays in the Picture') to make a film about the band and granted him access to an amazing audio/visual archive. The result is 'Crossfire Hurricane,' a documentary that covers the first 20 years of the band and focuses mainly on the first 10. This is one of the few films where I would recommend viewers watch an extra before the main feature because the interview with Morgen that accompanies the Blu-ray puts into context the film's focus, which isn't clear until the end, which is a bit frustrating.
'Crossfire Hurricane' features individual "interviews conducted with members of The Rolling Stones (including former members bassist Bill Wyman, who is officially listed as having left in 1993 on their website, and guitarist Mick Taylor, whose resignation is dealt with in the film) on the eve of their 50th anniversary. No cameras were allowed in the room," allowing for the subjects to not be self conscious as they spoke with interviewer Morgen. The documentary is not about the music they created but about the lives they lived.
After opening with portions of 'The Dick Cavett Show', which focused on the band's 1972 U.S. tour, and a performance of “Street Fighting Man,” 'Crossfire Hurricane' goes back to the band's early days. Credit is given to Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager and producer from 1963 to 1967, for helping to shape the band's image so they weren't just another generic British Invasion group traveling in the wake of The Beatles. After their first album of mostly covers, singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards began writing original songs. They also created a more rebellious image, the black hats to the Beatles' white hats.
As the band's fame grew, so did their access to drugs. Guitarist Brian Jones began drifting away from the band in reaction to both. Jagger says, “Keith and I took drugs, but Brian took too many drugs of the wrong kind, and wasn't functioning as a musician.” The rest of the band eventually decided they had to kick Jones out of the band, and he seemed accepting of it. Three weeks later, on July 3, 1969, Jones drowned in his swimming pool. Though over 40 years have passed, the pain of Jones' death is still apparent in their voices, Jagger especially, who still wonders if there was anything they could have done different to save their friend.
Two days after Jones' funeral, a previously planned concert at Hyde Park was their return to the stage after having been off between a year and two, depending on the Stone responding. The audience was around 500,000, a good-size crowd for Mick Taylor's first gig with the band. During his tenure, they played the infamous Atlamont Free Concert, which was previously shown in the brilliant 'Gimme Shelter' documentary by the Maysles brothers and Charlotte Zwerin. Rather than the band watching the footage, here they get to discuss their reactions to that insane day, which resulted in the tragic death of Meredith Hunter after he pulled out a gun. The band later moved to France because of Britain's tax situation, covered in Stephen Kijak's 'Stones in Exile'.
Morgen does a great job using the band's words to frame their state of mind, even when metaphoric. Wyman talks about how the music of The Stones was different than most bands because instead of everyone following the drums, Charlie Watts followed very slightly behind Richards' rhythm guitar, and Wyman tended to play ahead, meaning the whole thing “can all fall apart at any minute.” That statement summed up the Stones through the '70s as well. Taylor quit the band during a party in December 1974. Though the band members offer their different thoughts, and Jagger claims to still not be sure the reason, Taylor says he left because of his heroin use and need to get away from the then-current lifestyle of the Stones. That's the only reason given, which seems odd because Taylor himself has given others in interviews, such as not being given songwriting credit.
Coincidentally, guitarist Ronnie Wood was at the party and immediately accepted when offered Taylor's job. At this point in the film, there's only about 10 minutes left to deal with the next 38 years in the band's history. Richards' legal troubles due to drugs covers the rest of the decade. After getting busted in Canada, he cleaned up. The film concludes with the band on their 1981 North American Tour, shown in 'Let's Spend the Night Together'.
'Crossfire Hurricane' is an enjoyable documentary that should appeal to fans of the band, old and new. While there's no way to do the band's entire story justice in two hours, Morgen decided to focus on the most notable aspect to tell a specific story by showing how they went from being considered dangerous outlaws where anything could and did happen at their concerts to triumphant heroes. Though the amount of control Morgen had on the project is not stated, I have to presume the band had final cut, so it's no surprise they come out well in the end, which may explain why Taylor is only heard taking the blame for his leaving. Hard core fans that already know that story should enjoy seeing and hearing new material, from outtakes of 'Gimme Shelter' and 'Cocksucker Blues' to alternate takes of songs like “No Expectations.”
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment presents 'Crossfire Hurricane' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc housed in a blue case. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. It comes with a 12-page booklet that includes photos and liner notes about the film.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.78:1. This film has been put together to tell a story of the band the filmmaker determines to be of historical significance. Because of the quality of the archival material, the appearance of the video was not a primary concern.
The video aspects discussed run the gamut. Right from the start with the 'Dick Cavett Show' footage of the ' 72 tour, which is film shown on television eventually transferred to digital for Morgen's editing purposes, I presume, and who knows what else along the way, the image shows varying degrees of quality, grain, dirt, and defect. Here, and throughout the film, different sources are interspersed together to create scenes and the story so it's no surprise the quality of elements doesn't match within a scene let alone from scene to scene.
The image presented can look very good for its age. There are portions where colors are bright, blacks are deep, and the image shows good contrast and sharp focus. Then to move the scenes along, some material is used where the information within the frame is difficult to make out because the source features faded colors and a soft focus. The subpar material doesn't last long, but it 's noticeable.
Eagle makes available two options: DTS-HD Master 5.1 Surround and LPCM 2.0 Stereo. While the 2.0 is slightly louder, I chose the 5.1 because if offer a mix that was balanced better, though not without its own issues.
As the band first approach the stage at the beginning of the film, there's a loud bassy rumble. During "Street Fighting Man," the listener is surrounded by the music and a low echo effect, contributing to the feel of being at a concert. The low end comes into play during other performances as well due to the thunderous clapping and stomping from the audience.
As they begin their world domination, planes can be heard roaring across channels. The surrounds also come into play as vocal effects roll around when they talk about doing acid at Keith's in Redlands.
Unfortunately, a few concert performances offer muddled, distorted Jagger vocals. This is where the balance and dynamic range suffer. The modern-day interviews aren't as good as they should be either. Though the subjects are clearly understood, there are times when a background hiss can be heard.
Recommended for its historical significance more than its A/V qualities, 'Crossfire Hurricane' is an intriguing chapter from the story of The Rolling Stones and expectations should be set accordingly. While it strives to deliver something for everyone, I wish there had been an extra of some kind that would have indicated the new material never shown to the public before, nevertheless, that shouldn't dissuade anyone from viewing it. Recommended.