The world’s been waiting for some of Hollywood’s best and brightest minds – well, best, anyway – to finally aspire to a Rolling Stones biopic that’s fresh, irreverent and duly scandalous, with something genuinely of interest to say both about the Sixties and our own, sadly star-struck times, preferably with some enjoyably graphic sex and drugs bolted to the central morality tale, all set to a great soundtrack.
First, however, Stoned.
Stephen Woolley, the director here, was the moving force behind The Company of Wolves (1984), the Freudian version of Little Red Riding Hood, an intriguing idea mired in murky presentation, a succession of confused sub-plots and a lofty disdain for anything remotely resembling a narrative theme – not to mention a good, old-fashioned storyline. Something similar goes on in Stoned. Woolley’s use of grainy film stock and his characters’ array of gay-cabaret gear and bouffant wigs are all to the good; shame, though, about the script, which avoids any sort of context and instead concerns itself with the last, truly pathetic days of Brian Jones (played by Leo Gregory), a dissolute wreck of a pop star holed up with a variety of overnight guests and a faintly sinister builder/minder named Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), who may or may not have snapped and murdered the guv. (Having known the real Frank Thorogood, I seriously doubt it; since most recent Stones hacks have portrayed him as a psychotic thug, a role Frank sometimes liked to play, it’s perhaps a betrayal to say here that I encountered only a man who, if not someone you’d have considered as the godfather to your child, displayed both exquisite courtesy and an engaging, Arthur Daleyish entrepreneurial zeal – along with Daley’s profound aversion to violence.) About the best Woolley can conjecture is that Jones was ‘too good a swimmer’ to have simply drowned in his pool. Unmentioned is the fact that on the night in question, 2 July 1969, Brian was awash in brandy and sleeping pills, and had just ordered the water temperature revved up to over 90 degrees, a combination that would have seen Mark Spitz struggling.
Stoned is at its best when examining the mildly enigmatic Jones-Thorogood working relationship, with its echoes of all those role-blurring works like The Caretaker, along with its obvious opening nod to 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. Our old friend the class system, it seems, was the primary source of strife between the two men – a not wholly implausible thesis, given that Jones, like all the Stones, might as well have exchanged his bells and beads for the topper and tails of the Edwardian squire. Too bad the whole thing unravels in a series of non-sequential flashbacks and other would-be arty effects, with, presumably for copyright reasons, a weak tea-bag of a score instead of the satanic majesty of Gimme Shelter and the rest.
Gregory and Considine are the nominal stars, with David Morrissey in a ludicrous supporting role as Jones’s ‘manager’ Tom Keylock – another old friend (who actually is a godfather, of sorts, to my child), who in fact never aspired to be more than a group minder. But the only possible reason there might have been to watch this film would be to learn something new about the early Stones, and/or the twilight world of a fallen rock god. Stoned positively recoils from the former; and if it’s the demi-monde you want you’d be better off by far with 1970’s Performance, that perennial cult classic starring a certain Mick Jagger.
Christopher Sandford’s Keith Richards: Satisfaction (Headline) is available in paperback at £7.99.