- The Stones and Brian Jones is the first documentary devoted to the early member of The Rolling Stones, and is directed by the great Nick Broomfield.
- The film immerses viewers in 1960s England thanks to some great archival editing, providing context to the band’s formation, rise to stardom, and internal conflicts.
- Brian Jones was his own worst enemy, lacking the musical prowess and stage presence of his bandmates, ultimately contributing to his tragic passing.
No band in history has had the longevity that The Rolling Stones have achieved. Whether you still keep up with their bluesy new releases and live concerts, or you love them so much that you wish they’d stopped performing when they became septuagenarians, you can’t deny that they’re the longest-running rock act, traversing a literal 60 years. Maybe that’s why we don’t often hear about their very early days and one of their earliest members — maybe it’s just been too long.
Brian Jones is getting the documentary biopic treatment now, though. Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wyman, and Woods have been in a variety of concert films, documentaries, and even feature films, but The Stones and Brian Jones is the first devoted to the troubled, tragic pioneer of the band. The film is directed by documentary legend Nick Broomfield, who has made some of the best music-related documentaries of all time (Kurt & Courtney, Whitney: Can I Be Me, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, Tupac & Biggie).
Those were all very different films from The Stones and Brian Jones, however. Broomfield is known for being the man in the movie, the documentarian lugging audiovisual equipment around with him as he pursues revealing, intimate, and sometimes dangerous dialogues with real people. That’s not the case at all here in this entirely archival film, and while Broomfield’s quirky and bold on-screen presence is greatly missed, he’s able to immerse you in a time and place very effectively as a result.
Brian Jones Gets the Blues
As Broomfield recounts in the voiceover of The Stones and Brian Jones (and shares in its press release), he met Jones on a train one day when Broomfield was 14. “Brian was at the height of his success, with the world at his feet, yet just six years later he would be dead.” We know from history and the film’s directorial framing that this will be a tragedy of sorts, a chronicle of the 1960s and an elegy for a legend. Broomfield also states in the press release for the film:
“The Rolling Stones were a major influence in my formative years. Brian and Mick were heroes of the day, their rebellion and breaking of the rules were a great inspiration to us. Making this film was an opportunity for me to look at that formative growing up time until the shock of Brian’s death in 1969, the darkest moment in the history of The Stones, when things changed.”
The Stones and Brian Jones rushes us through the whirlwind of youth as Jones’ early band, Blues Incorporated (featuring him, Ian Stewart, and Charlie Watts) combines with Mick Jagger and Keith Richard of another young band, the Blues Boys. The appropriation of Black R&B, soul, and blues fed the culture, with young anti-authoritarians drawing from that music to expand the horizons of rock and roll, ultimately leading to the bombastic evolution of bands like The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The Rolling Stones were a heavier counterpart to what The Beatles were doing at the same time. Their early sound and yearning for authentic blues is on full display here thanks to the superb research and crate-digging that Broomfield conducted. He and editor Jan Lefrançois-Gijzen do a phenomenal job of laying out the band’s formation, early concerts, gradual rise to stardom, massive celebrity, and internal conflicts, always positioning Jones at the center. Footage of interviews and rowdy concerts from 1963 and 1964 offer priceless context here, and the film is full of some highly energetic performances.
Mourning the Death of the First Rolling Stone
Broomfield paints a surprisingly poignant and melancholic portrait of Jones’ dysfunctional family and the subsequent insecurities which entrapped the young musician in a repetitive self-destructive cycle. At one point as a teenager, with a guitar and a mop top, Jones’ parents threw him out of their house, damaging their relationship forever. His father was a stern post-war engineer who pushed back against basically every facet of Jones’ personality, and it shattered the boy’s ego.
Some of the best aspects of The Stones and Brian Jones are archival audiotapes of the women who knew Jones. The young man put himself in the same sad situation over and over again — he would fall in love with a young woman and insert himself into her home life; her parents would take him in and adopt him for a short while; he would impregnate her and run away before he could ever really be a father. He did this four times, and hearing the women who loved him and were damaged by him, complemented by footage of them, is haunting and revealing.
Jones was his own worst enemy, and ultimately helped create a band that was just too big for him. He never learned how to read or write music unlike others in the band, and aside from the slide guitar, he was hardly a musical virtuoso. He didn’t have anywhere near the same stage presence as Jagger, nor his vocal cords. He began shying away from interviews, letting Jagger and Richards dominate the Stones’ PR. The boy who played the blues found himself in a world-famous rock band of superstars, and no longer belonged.
Broomfield’s placid, sometimes mournful voiceover combines with the testimony and memories of people from the past to recount the final years of Jones’ life, foreshadowing his death. There is no glory at the end, though 54 years after he passed away, people who have perhaps never heard of Jones can now be introduced to him thanks to The Stones and Brian Jones. There’s a kind of glory in that.
A Lafayette Film production, Magnolia Pictures released The Stones and Brian Jones on demand and digital platforms today, Nov. 17, 2023. You can rent or purchase the film below.
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