According to filmmaker Nick Broomfield’s new documentary The Stones and Brian Jones, the titular subject had many aspects. An important aspect of the man’s life is his part in a cycle of rejection. He didn’t seem like a good fit with his bourgeois parents. He was the loose link in a family that came to be during postwar Britain. In turn, he had a lot of relationships with women, impregnated said young women, and promptly left them. All of this, by the way, was happening during the early days of The Rolling Stones, and with them, he dealt with the pressures of having mobs of fans wanting a piece of him. The doc also touches on Jones’ artistic and romantic troubles that caused rifts within the band.
The Stones and Brian Jones, in some good ways, is proof that the client, or in this case, the viewer doesn’t know what it wants. For brevity’s sake, I’ll spare you of my many hot takes on The Stones. That band, to me, conjures up images of emeriti of rock and roll, monuments withstanding decades of stormy weather. The doc, instead, is replete with archive footage of these men when they were young. Here, they’re forever the same age as its main subject who died young. The archive contains multitudes, like shaky footage of fans chasing after the Stones. There’s also Mick Jagger looking at the camera singing the kind of music that Jones, the band’s founder, felt like it was servicing the fans instead of himself.
The Stones and Brian Jones make for an interesting entry into Broomfield’s filmography. His previous work, by the way, includes Kurt and Courtney and a few documentaries about Black musicians. There are through lines among those docs and this one. Jones’ angst and bad romantic choices mirror Cobain’s, Jones also wanted to make blues instead of proto pop rock. I[‘m writing the next sentence at the risk of seeming reductive on screen, so here goes. It makes sense that the boomer filmmaker is finally leaving what seems like money jobs and is making a doc about someone he adored when he was in his twenties. He does this while recognizing that Jones wasn’t some maligned god but a human being who made mistakes.
I have expectations towards rock docs or even jukebox musicals that Stones doesn’t meet because it forgoes certain things and replaces it with others. Specifically, the doc only shows smatterings of Jones’ musical opinions or his contributions to the songs. Instead, the doc relies on the nastier side not just of celebrity docs but of Broomfield’s earlier work. The doc’s third act focuses a lot on Jones’ relationship with Italian actress Anita Pallenberg. There’s some nuance to the way the doc covers her, like her reasons for eventually leaving him, but it also paints her as the kind of woman who has lifestyle expectations that Jones’ fame and money met. Despite this though, it was nice to see a doc with some nuance.
Watch The Stones and Brian Jones in select Canadian theatres.