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In 1971, to get breathing room from tax and management problems, the Stones go to France. Jimmy Miller parks a recording truck next to Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg's Blue Coast villa, and by June the band is in the basement a few days at a time. Upstairs, heroin, bourbon, and visitors are everywhere. The Stones, other musicians and crew, Pallenberg, and photographer Dominique Tarle, plus old clips and photos and contemporary footage, provide commentary on the album's haphazard construction. By September, the villa is empty; Richards and Jagger complete production in LA. "Exile on Main Street" is released to mediocre reviews that soon give way to lionization. Written by
It must be said that the Stones have brilliantly drummed up a buzz about the re-release of their classic "Exile On Main Street" album, with a combination of press interviews, personal appearances and now this high-gloss patchwork documentary but you have to concede that it's pretty much worked - the album re-topped the charts in the UK and US some 38 years after its original release.
So does this new documentary serve the music satisfactorily, well, yes and no, in my opinion. Naturally there are limited sources available - this was 1971 - 72 after all and so the producer has to cobble together only a little verite video of the sessions themselves, mixing this with latter-day interviews with the band, famous fans and others of their entourage, segments from the bootleg "Ladies and Gentleman...The Rolling Stones" concert film of their 1972 US tour (including the infamous incident where a blissed-out Keith and horn-player Bobby Keys throw a TV out their hotel window) and still photo montages of the band at the time. Of course one would wish for more actual footage of the band actually recording the album (although several inserts of tape recordings of the sessions are teasingly included) - for instance, quite annoyingly a great take of "Loving Cup" is interrupted half-way through in the rush to keep the talking going, surely a mistake, but the end result still serves the album well and gives a fascinating insight into the band's M.O. at the time (basically a drink/drug fuelled jamboree by the sounds of things).
Out of all this emerged a superb double album of adrenalised, debauched rock and roll, with smatterings of country, gospel and blues, which to paraphrase a line used by Keith seems to have drained the band to the extent that they never hit this artistic height again. There's also little doubt from the evidence here that Mr Richards was the creative heart and soul of the album and this obviously not just down to the album being largely recorded in the basement of his house at the time.
Pros and cons, well, on the plus side, every song gets an airing of some kind, it was nice to hear contributions from past Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor and it was cool to hear a previously unheard title song for the album played over the end credits. On the down side, there's a pretty unnecessary visit by Mick and Charlie to their old London Olympic studio, ditto the footage shot in America and especially the fact no entry at all was apparently allowed to the scene of the crime itself, Richards' Nellcote mansion in the south of France.
Yes, this movie has that Jagger-ised polish you would expect from control-freak Mick and one might have wished that this had been the Stones' "Let It Be" with film cameras set up to record the sessions 24/7 but under the circumstances, I still enjoyed the film and have been playing the album constantly ever since. Job done, I'd say!
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