It’s sometimes easy to forget that The Rolling Stones are even a band any more. They seem more like a monument, a piece of nostalgia with little value in the modern world, like typewriters or Betamax. So when the first incarnation of the Stones roar out some belting blues numbers in the opening minutes of this film it seems like an impressive, even vital piece of film-making. This is an illusion created by the band’s modern day image; Mick is singing about things a man his age should really keep to himself, Ronnie is peering out of gossip columns looking like a perverted crow, while Charlie and Keith have mostly disappeared from the public view into what we can only assume are some bloody big houses.
But once the sensation of “holy shit, they really were great” wears off, the documentary’s flaws come thick and fast. In fact the main problem with this film is made clear to the viewer within a matter of seconds: there is no new footage. The interview with the band, which is the focus of the two hour feature, is done without any talking heads or any other visual representation.
It’s lucky then, that the interview itself is quite good. The band don’t reveal anything to make it required listening, but Mick and Keith are their usual charming selves and the addition of Mick Taylor gives a valuable perspective on their most artistically rewarding period. They are especially interesting on the subject of Brian Jones, who was the band’s founder and a talented multi-instrumentalist up until his death in 1969. They are also on top form when discussing the now infamous Altamont free concert, where a mixture of overcrowding and of the presence of Hells’ Angels as security led to the stabbing of fan Meredith Hunter during a performance of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. Unfortunately for Crossfire Hurricane, the event was covered so well by the earlier, powerful documentary Gimme Shelter that it casts a large shadow over this section of the picture.
Another issue that arises from the interview-based narrative is that the film can only really cover what the band felt like talking about at the time, which means there are major gaps in their musical history. Considering that a large part of the film is about Brian Jones, it seems a great shame that the albums that featured his best playing (Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request) are almost entirely ignored. Indeed, with the sole exception of a great scene showing Mick and Keith penning their first self-written song ‘Tell Me’, the same can be said for any section of their discography which isn’t part of their regular live set.
It therefore fails to do what any documentary should strive to do: teach us something new. If you only know the Stones for their major hits there is little you will learn from this picture, which can only serve to frustrate those who care, and bore those who don’t. Crossfire Hurricane hasn’t the material to show us anything new about the men involved, nor the drive to teach anything new about the music. It exists to give people a helpful reminder of their big hits in time for the release of their latest greatest hits album Grrr and, in that task, it serves as an inoffensive but unremarkable success.