© Omni Zoetrope / United Artists
In my previous post I wrote about the late Anita Pallenberg and her finest cinematic moment, the dark and twisted 1968 crime / rock movie Performance. This also starred Mick Jagger, fellow Rolling Stone and best buddy of Pallenberg’s then lover, Keith Richards.
Performance’s cocktail of rock stars, gangsters, drugs, decadence and debauchery was seen as representative of the culture surrounding the Stones in the late 1960s; and this, along with Pallenberg and Jagger’s participation, surely means it can be classed as a ‘Rolling Stones movie’. Which begs the questions, “Are there other Rolling Stones movies? And if so, what?”
After all, there’s been plenty of Beatles movies over the years: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), Let It Be (1970), I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), The Birth of the Beatles (1979), Give my Regards to Broad Street (1984), The Hours and Times (1991), Backbeat (1994), Two of Us (2000), even The Rutles (1978). But what of the Liverpudlian moptops’ less wholesome London rivals? What’s been their contribution to cinema?
On the face of it, there isn’t a lot. That is, if you don’t count the various documentaries made about them like Charlie is my Darling (1966), Jean Luc Godard’s oddball Sympathy for the Devil (1968) and Gimme Shelter (1970), a chronicle of their 1969 American tour that ended bloodily with Hells Angels-inspired carnage at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. And if you don’t count their many concert movies like The Stones in the Park (1969), Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982), Julien Temple’s The Stones at the Max (1991) (the first feature-length movie to be filmed in IMAX – because what you really want to see is a 100-feet-tall close-up of Keith Richards’ face, right?), The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996) (plug your ears for the bit with Yoko Ono) and the Martin Scorsese-directed Shine a Light (2008), which provided the gruesome spectacle of leathery 60-something Jagger duetting with 20-something pop-moppet Christina Aguilera and prowling around her like a camp velociraptor.
There’s been little effort to film key events in the history of the Rolling Stones. Off the top of my head, the only one I can think of is the little-known Stoned (2005), about the possible circumstances of Brian Jones’s death. And as for movies featuring Stones-members as actors, well, there’s just a couple of items with Mick Jagger – epics such as Ned Kelly (1970) and Freejack (1992). Ouch and double-ouch.
© Walt Disney Productions / Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Actually, you could make a case for the Pirates of the Caribbean series being Rolling Stones films as their star Johnny Depp famously based the voice, mannerisms and swagger of his Captain Jack Sparrow character on Keith Richards. I thought Depp-playing-Keith-playing-a-pirate was a rib-tickling gimmick that elevated the first Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, back in 2003, from being a middling film to being an entertaining one. Alas, Captain Jack / Johnny / Keith has gradually lost his novelty value as the sequels have become ever-more convoluted, repetitious and tedious. For the third in the franchise, At World’s End (2007), the filmmakers had the bright idea of bringing in the real Keith Richards to cameo as Captain Jack’s pirate dad. You can see his cameo here on Youtube, which saves you the ordeal of sitting through the whole poxy movie waiting for him to show up.
However, there’s one thing you can say about the Rolling Stones and celluloid. In the right film, blasting over the soundtrack at the right moment, a Stones song can help create a splendid musical, visual and dramatic alchemy, turning a good cinematic scene into one that’s truly awesome. Here are my all-time favourite uses of Rolling Stones songs in the movies.
© Taplin-Perry-Scorsese Productions / Warner Bros
Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets (1973)
Wow. Martin Scorsese really likes the Rolling Stones. Not only has he made a concert movie about them, the above-mentioned Shine a Light, but he’s used their music in umpteen films: Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006) and the one that first put him on the map, 1973’s Mean Streets. Even today, more than 40 years later, the scene in Mean Streets where a young Robert De Niro comes swaggering through a bar, in slow motion, towards a pensive Harvey Keitel, while Jagger hollers in the background about being “born in a cross-fire hurricane”, is a great synthesis of rock ‘n’ roll music and rock ‘n’ roll cinema. Indeed, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a fitting accompaniment for the arrival in popular consciousness of De Niro, who’d spend the rest of the 20th century showing Hollywood how to do proper acting. (The 21st century, containing The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), Little Fockers (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011) and Dirty Grandpa (2016), is a different matter.)
Satisfaction in Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Stones’ early, primordial and still potent stomper Satisfaction gets a brief but memorable airing in Francis Ford Coppola’s baroque Vietnam War masterpiece, playing on the radio while Captain Martin Sheen and his not-exactly-fighting-fit crew go cruising up the Nùng River in search of Marlon Brando. Cue some funky on-deck dance moves by a frighteningly young-looking Laurence Fishburne and some funny / cringeworthy water-skiing moves by Sam Bottoms that knock various Vietnamese people out of their fishing boats.
Sympathy for the Devil in Alien Nation (1988)
Graham Baker’s sci-fi / cop movie Alien Nation isn’t very good. Its premise of an alien community getting stranded on earth and having to integrate as best as they can with the curmudgeonly human natives was handled much better in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009). But I do like a woozy, hypnotic scene in it where alien-loathing cop James Caan enters a sleazy alien bar while a lady-alien performs an erotic dance to the strains of Sympathy for the Devil. Not the original Stones song, but a correspondingly woozy, hypnotic cover-version of it by the great Jane’s Addiction. I can’t find a film-clip of the scene, but here’s the Jane’s Addiction cover.
© Légende Entreprises / Universal Pictures
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? in Casino (1995)
While Martin Scorsese serenades Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel with Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets, he employs the 1971 Stones song Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? for another of his regulars, Joe Pesci, in Casino. Remarkably, Scorsese plays all seven minutes of the Santana-esque Can’t You… as an accompaniment to a lengthy sequence showing how Pesci’s Casino character Nicky Santoro gets established in Las Vegas. Predictably, the sequence has Pesci doing what Pesci usually does in Scorsese movies: being a psychotic shit, barking orders at hoodlum sidekicks twice his size, eating in restaurants, ingratiating himself with fellow Mafiosi, being a psychotic shit, cursing and swearing, getting a blow-job, being a psychotic shit, talking about food, knocking off jewellery stores, acting the loving family man with his non-criminal relatives… and being a psychotic shit.
Sympathy for the Devil in Interview with the Vampire (1995)
It’s Sympathy for the Devil again. And again, this isn’t the Rolling Stones original but a cover version, this time by Guns n’ Roses. It’s as ramshackle, shonky and (for me) enjoyable as Guns n’ Roses’ other covers, which include ones of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Wings’ Live and Let Die. In Interview with the Vampire, Sympathy… kicks in during the final scene when, to nobody’s great surprise, the supposedly-vanquished vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) reappears and takes a bite out of reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater).
© Strike Entertainment / Universal Pictures
Ruby Tuesday in Children of Men (2006)
Wistful Stones ballad Ruby Tuesday features briefly on the soundtrack of Alfonso Cuarón’s gruellingly pessimistic science-fiction thriller Children of Men. It’s another cover, sung by Franco Battiato. We hear it during one of the movie’s calmer moments when Theo (Clive Owen) is visiting his mate Jasper (Michael Caine), whose home provides a small pocket of sanity amid the unfolding dystopian grimness. Amusingly, Caine, well known in real life for being a right-wing old grump given to moaning about his tax-bill, here plays a left-wing old hippy given to smoking super-strong pot.
© Plan B Entertainment / Warner Bros
Gimme Shelter in The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese loves the Rolling Stones and he loves their apocalyptic 1969 number Gimme Shelter in particular. By my count he’s used it in three movies: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed. It’s best deployed at the beginning of The Departed, rumbling in the background while gangland thug Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) expounds his philosophy. “I don’t want to be a part of my environment,” he intones, imbuing his words with that leery, languid menace that only Nicholson is capable of. “I want my environment to be a part of me.” Strangely, in Scorsese’s Shine a Light two years later, Gimme Shelter was one of the songs the Stones didn’t perform on stage. So Marty missed a trick there.
Street Fighting Man in Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Director Wes Anderson also sticks Rolling Stones songs into his movies, but so far I haven’t mentioned him because I find most of his work insufferably smug and pretentious. (Play with Fire figures prominently in 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, an Anderson movie so twee it’s the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed with chocolate cake-mix.) However, I like the scene in his stop-motion-animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox where, to the sound of the rabblerousing late-1960s Stones anthem Street Fighting Man, Farmers Bean, Boggis and Bunce use three diggers to tear up the den of the titular Mr Fox; forcing the den’s inhabitants to frantically dig an escape-route. As Keith Richards might say: “We’re the Stones – you dig?”
© 20th Century Fox