TV ReviewsWhen the Stones Were on a Roll
By John Anderson, Wall Street Journal
- Nov. 9, 2012
Among the many wonderful moments in "Crossfire Hurricane," Brett Morgen's thoroughly captivating Rolling Stones documentary
, is a virtually tossed-off scene that speaks volumes about who the subjects were and where they were going in the band's earliest days. In the ancient black-and-white clip, the very young Stones, with their then-manager and mastermind Andrew Loog Oldham, are shown inside a British rail car, singing the popular wartime ditty "Maybe It's Because I Am a Londoner." They all know the words; Keith Richards, the baddest of the carefully branded "bad boys," is smiling broadly. The Stones may have wanted to be black American bluesmen, but like most British war babies they had the English music hall in their DNA, not the plantation. And it was the sweetness of youth, and melody, that made their music mainstream and accessible to a public that turned a deaf ear to Muddy Waters.
It's this kind of thing that elevates Mr. Morgen's artfully crafted collage, which has a free-associative attitude but a very precise tone of voice. Constructed out of archival materials that include newsreel footage and some never-before-seen outtakes from the better films on this much-documented band (including the Maysles brothers' 1970 "Gimme Shelter" and Robert Frank's 1972 documentary with the unmentionable title), the movie is full of ripe moments, as well as a sense of being under someone's thumb: Although 80 hours of interviews were reportedly conducted for the documentary, no cameras were permitted in the room. And certain aspects of the Stones' history—including their relationship with the problematic business manager Allen Klein, or their history of "borrowing" material, including guitar licks from Ry Cooder—are omitted.
But so are the past 30 years of a group that celebrates 50 years as a pop institution this year, whose youngest member is 65, and which remains one of the most profitable live acts in show business. While the story line may be hagiography, the most acidic statement made by "Crossfire Hurricane"—whose name comes, fittingly, from a mid-1960s hit, "Jumpin' Jack Flash"—is its time frame.
From the opening musical number, "Street Fighting Man," shot at Madison Square Garden in 1972, the movie concentrates either on the Stones in their infancy, with Brian Jones, or the great post-Jones incarnation, with guitarist Mick Taylor and original bassist Bill Wyman (who quit the band in 1993). Everything post-'70s is written off.
You never quite know who's talking behind the pictures, unless it's Mr. Jagger, whose plummy tones are familiar enough, or Mr. Richards, whose voice sounds like something percolating through gravel. You're not even quite sure, sometimes, what they're saying. But it doesn't really matter. What Mr. Morgen is after is something true to the Stones as they once existed—as the anti-Beatles, the antiheroes of the British Invasion and an entity that bespoke hedonism, nihilism and narrow escapes.
The film closes with a shot from Martin Scorsese's concert film "Shine a Light," shot in 2006, but it otherwise ends about 1978, just before "Some Girls," probably the band's last great album. Have the Rolling Stones released any really memorable new material since? It's debatable. Swirling around Mr. Morgen's remarkable filmmaking is a decided sense of melancholy. According to "Crossfire Hurricane," what made the Stones the Stones blew away long ago. What remains is, like much of contemporary pop, a kind of perpetual déjà vu.CROSSFIRE HURRICANE
Thurs., Nov. 15, at 9 p.m. on HBO* * * *
Mick Jagger once appeared on "Family Guy,"
the gleefully vulgar animated series that was canceled in 2001, brought back in 2004, and celebrates its 200th episode Sunday
. His contribution? The complete and mercilessly unabridged version of "Dancing in the Streets" performed by Mr. Jagger and David Bowie—a low point in the history of music videos.
Why did it pop up in "Family Guy"? Why not? The anarchic show, created by the multitalented Seth MacFarlane, is inevitably inconsistent, since it dances along the edge of what still passes on television as propriety. But sometimes the strategy pays off: In 2010, the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein-inspired "Down-Syndrome Girl," a number that broke out in the middle of an episode, was nominated for an Emmy and must be seen to be believed.
Nothing nearly as laugh-out-loud funny happens in episode 200, which is titled "Yug Ylimaf" because Brian, the Griffin family's pseudointellectual talking dog, has been misusing the time machine created by Stewie, the family's homicidal, Brit-accented infant. The flow of time has been reversed, which means the sight gags have to be figured out backward, which allows for some typically risqué humor that occasionally verges on the disgusting, and a showcase for what makes "Family Guy" special: a highly sophisticated style of telling some very dirty jokes.
Casual viewers won't get the inside stuff, which since the show's debut in 1999 has grown increasingly arcane. Ernie the Giant Chicken shows up to engage idiot paterfamilias Peter Griffin in another of their epic street fights. There's even a reference by Stewie to Lacey Chabert, the actress who voiced long-suffering daughter Meg Griffin in the earliest episodes of the show. Time is flowing backward after all. The hope here is that "Family Guy" continues to move forward, toward a nit-witted sublime.FAMILY GUY: 200th EPISODE
Sunday, Nov. 11, at 9 p.m. on Fox* * * *
The 2010 feature documentary "Catfish" was a reality show writ large: A good-looking young man, infatuated with a good-looking young woman he meets on the Internet, sets out to find her, and discovers a catalog of sad secrets.
That young man, Nev Schulman, now joined by a sidekick, Max Joseph, is hosting "Catfish: The TV Show,"
a venue apparently quite happy to be seen as the leading launch pad for downwardly moving vehicles. Which is not to say that the series won't provide a cautionary something for a youth culture in which personal identity seems increasingly amorphous: The subjects are in relatively long-term exchanges (10 years, in one case) with people they've never met, and who are suspiciously reticent about moving the relationship into the reality-based universe. In the initial episodes, at least, one can see the heartbreak coming a mile away.
The movie raised a lot of questions about how much the filmmakers manipulated the story, and how much they knew before the big "reveal." Likewise the TV show raises the question of whether its presenters know in advance of their various subjects' circumstances. But the veracity of this series is, in the end, less important than what it says about a culture in which people blithely create online worlds on a collision course with the truth. Schadenfreude may be the lifeblood of reality television, but in "Catfish," it's fairly guilt free.CATFISH: THE TV SHOW
Begins Monday, Nov. 12, at 11 p.m. on MTVhttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203897404578078740347375434.html?mod=WSJ_ArtsEnt_LifestyleArtEnt_6