Academic Writing

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crossfire Hurricane

I had the privilege of watching Crossfire Hurricane at HBO's US premiere of the film Tuesday night at the Ziegfeld theater in New York.  The band was in attendance and introduced the documentary with humor and excitement.  The theater was packed and you could feel the excitement in the room as the rock legends paraded down the aisle to speak from the podium.  However, once the film started and while watching the "Rise of the Stones" and listening to them talk about how they were the antidote to the good-boy Beatles and how they offered a release to a generation yearning to break free from the older generation I couldn't help feel as though I was experiencing a very meta-moment.  I was in a room full of industry insiders - member of the press, television executives, and a number of socialite New Yorkers (not to mention the sheer amount of botox and collagen implants on the aging women)  - exactly the population that the young Stones were rebelling against.  The documentary also highlighted those sentiments.  It was very much about a band who was founded on the notion and ideal of being the anti-establishment.  The irony was not lost on me.  However, as the documentary closes on Jagger stating that "You can't be young forever" it became clear that while yes, these guys have been playing the bad boys of music well into their 70s, they have mellowed some, as we all must, to become functioning members of society. Jagger is quoted in the film as saying that their music resonated with the youth because they were so dissatisfied with the generation that they think controls them - but what does it mean when the rockers singing about dissatisfaction are well above the age of that so-called generation?

Watching Brett Morgen's Crossfire Hurricane I couldn't help but feel as though a major theme was just how strongly the idea is that the 1960s was essentially a failed experiment by "the youth" to create a Utopian society based in anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois, and anti-authoritarian society.  It pains me to say this, but the concert at Altamont makes that abundantly clear - Mick Jagger's voice over introduces the segment by saying that this was going to be the youth's chance to prove that they can create a society where police are not needed and they can gather peacefully.  When it ended with a murder and the band in genuine fear of being attacked the realization that that is impossible becomes clear.  The involvement of the Hell's Angels to be the "security" proved to be more dangerous that actual police officers and the abundant drug use was ultimately one of the major causes of the disturbance.  Ultimately social order is necessary to a functioning society and the band came to realize that and Altamount ultimately marked a major turning point in their evolution.

The doc doesn't delve into the peripheries of the life of the - namely the women that came in and out of their lives were noticebly absent - it is truly about the band, and about how the members as individuals came together to make music history.  The drugs do play a major role in the film - one of the opening scenes shows Mick snorting cocaine off a knife blade.  Keith Richards talks candidly about his run ins with the law over his drug use and how it both enhanced and hindered their music making at times.  Additionally, the aging rockers talk openly about the band members who have both come in and out of the Stones throughout the years.  Brian Jones' tragic death is handled with elegance and delicately while Mick Taylor's rather sudden departure from the band is also covered with candor and in Taylor's own words.

Also interestingly, while the Morgen recorded 80 hours of interviews, none of those hours were on screen.  The documentary was told entirely in voice over while stunning archival footage shows the story.  At first I was hoping to see the band in their current state telling their story, but as the documentary went on I found that I wasn't missing that at all.  In fact, the voice over allowed for the images to tell the story of the history rather than focusing on where the band is now.  Yes, Mick's voice is so distinct and Richards' voice is so ravaged it was often clear as to when they were speaking and while Morgen did often offer visual cues as to who the speaker was, it was still unclear at times and that left me wanting a more obvious context as to who was offering the voice over.

Clocking in at just about 2 hours, the film felt long towards the end, but all in all offers an interesting glimpse at the band which, after so many years in the spotlight (not to mention a plethora of other documentaries made about them) still feels fresh and illuminating.  Definitely worth the trip.

Crossfire Hurricane airs on Thursday night at 9PM on HBO.

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