In an age when drug taking is as alternative as taking a bus and where the average teenager thinks counter culture means queuing at Top Shop, it is hard to appreciate the shock to the System provided by the Sixties.
A generation of parents whose youth had been sacrificed to war stood in disapproving disbelief as their children tuned in, dropped out, wore ludicrous clothes and bad hair. That generational clash is at the heart of producer Stephen Woolley’s ambitious directorial debut, Stoned about the fast life and early death of Rolling Stones’ founder member Brian Jones (Leo Gregory).
Like Sunset Boulevard, Stoned begins with a body in a swimming pool. It is Jones’s. The resonance with Billy Wilder’s bitter story of corrupted artistry should ring warning bells about how he got there.
The backstory is revealed through a series of flashbacks told to one-eyed East End war veteran Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), installed at Jones’s country pile to keep watch on the wayward star by manager Tom Keylock, played by David Morrissey as a self-interested charmer with more than a passing resemblance to Michael Caine’s Alfie.
It was only a matter of time before Jones added drugs to his twin passions: sex and rock and roll. Sadly precious little of Brian’s beautiful talent is shown, in part because copyright of the Stones’ early back catalogue remains in the hands of Alan Klein.
What we do see in Gregory’s Jones is the dissolute wreck of Adonis: a louche, bored bully gone to earth on Cotchford Farm, ironically once home to AA Milne and the epitome of innocence Christopher Robin. Repressed builder Thorogood is out of his depth here. Jones mocks his masculinity, treating him with patrician contempt until the working class worm turns.
In the sexually ambiguous relationship and psychological games played on Thorogood there is more than an echo of Joseph Losey’s The Servant and Nic Roeg’s Performance, which was inspired by the Thorogood-Jones relationship and starred Jones’s ex-lover Anita Pallenburg, here portrayed by Monet Mazur as less dominatrix than domineered.
Woolley plunders other films of the era from Blow Up to The Knack to create period feel. His use of Super8 and 16mm lend Stoned a stunning authenticity. The same can be said about Roger Burton’s costumes.
The grainy realism highlights the film’s weakness. So hard does Woolley work to get the look right, he loses sight of the script. Relationships are underwritten – Jagger barely gets a line, while so little passes between the doe-faced Richards and Pallenberg one wonders how a seduction happened.
Woolley overcomes musical setbacks by relying on Jones’s musical influences. But at times the soundtrack is laughably unsubtle. Jones and Pallenberg drop acid to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. Traffic’s Paper Sun backs the Stones in Marrakech. Clunkiest of all Jagger and Richards sack Jones while Dylan sings Ballad of a Thin Man. Geddit? “Something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?”
Woolley could have made a film that said as much about our own times and its over-blown celebrities as it does about the Sixties. Instead what we get is an entertaining 102 minutes that looks fabulous, but is a pale shadow of its iconic influences.