Saturday, February 26, 2011



I missed writing about this last fall when it came out, as the companion documentary to the reissue of the Stones' classic album Exile On Main Street, so I'll step a few months to correct that here.  Made with the cooperation and participation of the band, current and former members included, it's an attempt to explain and describe the near-legendary circumstances surrounding the landmark album.  Since there's been an entire mythology that's been built up around the sessions, held largely at Keith's house in the south of France, the movie spends much of the time demystifying the months leading up to Exile's 1972 release.

It seems we know most of the story, and it's not really that glamorous.  In a nutshell, the Stones are having serious money problems, thanks to rip-off deals with Allen Klein, Andrew Loog Oldham, Decca, you name it.  Then the British government hit them with the nefarious 93% tax rate, and they basically skipped town.  They couldn't find a studio, so they recorded in Keith's villa, made some amazing music, Keith found easy access to hard drugs, things got heavy, and they left 9 months later with half the album, which then got finished in L.A.  The end.

Of course, it's a fascinating story, and doesn't really need any more rumours, theories or tall tales.  The doc does the important job of describing what it was like, through the eyes of Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts, Mick Taylor, horn man Bobby Keyes, Anita Pallenberg, plus several others there on a daily basis.  While there's precious little actual film footage of the house and the sessions, the director and editor do a fabulous job of using the ample still photography and sources such as the controversial, still-unreleased tour film Cocksucker Blues, from that period.  The new interviews are no-bullshit, with Mick actually answering questions and giving insights, and Wyman and Watts accurately describing what a drag it was working in a dank, hot basement, and spending hours waiting for either Keith or Mick to show.

There's lots of fun moments, including Mick and Charlie returning to Olympic Studios in L.A. recently, bantering like two old British war vets.  And geez, Charlie looks old.  Mick, however, looks timeless.  Bobby Keyes, with his Texan drawl, is a valuable source, telling us "hell yes, there were drugs, and scantily-clad women.  This is rock'n'roll!"  What none of them can answer is why it all came together so perfectly on this album, now widely considered the band's best.  It doesn't matter, it just matters that it does exist, and we know have as accurate a picture as we're going to get.

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