A Rolling Stone may gather no moss, but sure attracts an entourage

A Rolling Stone may gather no moss, but sure attracts an entourage

(Screen Media) Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine, Ben Whishaw, Monet Mazur, Tuva Novotny, David Morrissey, Amelia Warner, Luke de Woolfson. Directed by Stephen Woolley

Brian Jones (Gregory) was the driving factor in the formation of the Rolling Stones. Flamboyant and excessive, he symbolized the band in the eyes of many but as his drug use escalated and his creative contributions decreased, he also came to symbolize the pitfalls of fame and drug abuse.

The movie begins Sunset Boulevard-like with Jones’ body at the bottom of his pool. The rest of the film is told in flashback fashion, chronicling Jones’ early resistance to authority and his love for the blues, leading him to form a band along with Mick Jagger (de Woolfson) and Keith Richards (Whishaw).

The group eventually gains enormous success which leads to excess. Experimentation with psychedelic drugs, some with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg (Mazur) and sexual encounters with both men and women begin to dominate Jones’ life. Bouts of occasional cruelty (he is depicted beating up Pallenberg in a scene where Richards comes to her rescue) lead the band to abandon him in Morocco. The rift between the rest of the Stones grows wider although Jones at times tries to make amends.

He buys a rambling country estate once owned by author A.A. Milne of the Winnie the Pooh series. His manager Tom Keylock (Morrissey) links him up with Frank Thorogood (Considine), a morose World War II veteran, to help renovate the property. As it turns out, Thorogood isn’t much of a contractor, but his true role is to act as a babysitter for Jones, whose increasing unreliability has put a strain on the band. Eventually, Thorogood begins to do drugs with Jones, leading him to become something of a pet for Jones who treats him with casual cruelty, but Thorogood – now addicted to the lifestyle – accepts this behavior with minimal resentment.

Soon, Brian’s antics become too much for the band and they fire their founding father. It’s also suggested that his flamboyant lifestyle was bleeding money from the band – Jones was virtually broke when he died. Jones is also growing tired of Thorogood and gives him the sack as well, leading to a final confrontation at the swimming pool.

This is a fictional account of the life and death of Jones, although there are many incidents based on fact depicted here. The depiction of Jones as a somewhat schizophrenic character who could be kind and gentle one moment, cruel and narcissistic the next jives with contemporary accounts of the guitarist.

British character actor Gregory takes on the role of Jones and does as good a job with it as can be expected. The real-life Jones is a deeply polarizing character to the rock and roll community in general and the Rolling Stones camp in particular. He remains enigmatic even to those who knew him well; capturing someone like that on film is nearly impossible but Gregory takes a noble crack at it. He certainly has the look down pat.

Considine is also good as Thorogood. His performance is more understated than Gregory’s, so when Thorogood snaps it is jarring and surprising, a nice bit of work that adds some spice to the film.

There is a great deal of sex and drugs here but somewhat incongruously very little rock and roll. Although it’s never stated, it seems logical that the surviving Rolling Stones divorced themselves completely from this project and lent little or no co-operation to it. Although the band is central to the film’s story, none of their music is used in the movie and it is a cover band called the Counterfeit Stones that supplies music credited to the band, although it is not music written by the band but blues songs that they covered early in their career.

The filmmakers do a nice job of capturing the mid-60s with the glory of Carnaby Street and the underlying seediness of drug and alcohol abuse. Deliberately under-lighting some of the scenes gives an air of watching period Super-8 footage instead of a modern feature film.

The film asserts that Thorogood on his deathbed in 1994 confessed to murdering Jones, although this has never been confirmed. However, there is enough evidence that has come to light that in August 2009 the police have re-opened the investigation into Jones’ death, which is still as of this writing officially a “death by misadventure.”

The tragedy of Brian Jones demise would be the first of many rock and roll casualties. The characterization of Jones as a deeply troubled young man who had squandered his talent resonates with modern audiences nicely. It is unlikely that the Stones would ever co-operate with a film on the life of Brian Jones, so we’ll probably never get a definitive biography of the man. This is a shame because the glimpses we get into his psyche are tantalizing.

WHY RENT THIS: Brian Jones is a fascinating figure and while it is unlikely we’ll ever get a definitive biography of him this will do. Nice performances by Gregory and Considine; the movie carries an extreme amount of sex appeal. The 60s are captured nicely both in look and feel.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The music of the Rolling Stones is sadly missing here, so we don’t get much of a context as to Jones’ contributions to the band. The movie dwells a bit too much on some of Jones’ addictions.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of nudity both male and female, much sexuality and a copious amount of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first directorial effort for Woolley, a writer-producer who also worked on the 1994 film Backbeat which chronicled the fifth Beatle, Stu Sutcliffe who passed away shortly after being fired from his band.