A look at the creation and impact of the 1972 Rolling Stones album "Exile on Main St."

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Storyline

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 <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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12 July 2010 (Japan)  »

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Oi Rolling Stones stin exoria  »

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Featured in Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: Episode #2.75 (2010) See more »

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Soul Survivors
28 November 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Stones in Exile, which is decidedly much more about Richards but also about the group of the Stones at large, is perhaps just a little too short. It runs at a very brisk 60 minutes, which might be fine if one is looking for just the basic scoop ala-TV-documentary time. And maybe that is what it was meant for and is okay at. But this is a grand, epic story that got just the right amount of coverage in the books that have been released on that fateful summer of 1971 where the Stones left to France after England kicked their asses with over-taxes. You think it's tough here in the States, try getting an 83% tax rate!

Maybe it's because it's a book versus a movie, or maybe there isn't enough that the Stones, all of whom including retired members like Bill Wyman and ex-lovers like Anita Pallenberg, agreed to let out due to being interviewed. Hell, even Richards's oldest son Marlon, who got a good deal of mention in Richards' memoir, gives some scoop on what little he could remember of the period. Or maybe it's more of a specific stylistic choice that is a little irksome in the doc: there is precious little actual interview footage shown of the Stones- we do see Jagger and Charlie Watts wandering around the old grounds of the basement recording studio at Nellcote- as it's mostly just voice-over and narration over still images and some limited rehearsal footage.

There are a few talking heads- Martin Scorsese, Jack White, Benicio Del-Toro (?!)- but they're book-ended at the start and finish. I guess the one complaint is that it's not enough of a good thing, like a quarter of a filet mignon instead of the whole frigging slab of meat. And yet what is thrown to us is just fine, and if you have absolutely no knowledge of how the album was made (that is a novice Stones fan or maybe a curious visitor to their catalog) it is a good primer. We get to see some of the process, the long laboring to make just one song that could take days, and the peculiar and sometimes frustrating set-up at the Nellcote mansion of setting up musicians in a kitchen or a closet or bathroom just to get a particular sound. And, of course, other hassles like the distance-gap for Charlie Watts (a 6-7 hour drive round trip from his place to Richards' mansion!) and Mick Jagger's hyped marriage.

Oh, and Richards' heroin addiction, which is given some mention but not to the extent that one could see in some of the books, certainly by Richards' own admission (after the summer he actually had to go to a special rehab in Switzerland just to get one of his many future cold turkeys). But it is a fun process to watch in the documentary, filled naturally and thankfully with every song from the album (save maybe for "Let it Loose" if I'm not mistaken). It's a tale of exiles making a record that is filled with great sounds and experimentation, and it gets better on every listen as its little idiosyncrasies and mix of hard-rock and blues and western and even gospel ("Just Wanna See His Face") make it so eclectic as to be one-of-a-kind. As for the documentary... not so much.


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