The Stones and Brian Jones Review | Sympathy for the Demons

by Andrew Parker

A good primer on a musical legend that tends to get left out of rock and roll history, The Stones and Brian Jones is veteran documentarian Nick Broomfield’s earnest, sometimes sloppily made attempt to remember the forgotten founder of one of the world’s most influential and revered bands. The Stones and Brian Jones is lacking in a lot of ways on a filmmaking level, but never in terms of providing facts and insight, which is what matters most here. As a straightforward biography of troubled rock star Brian Jones, it works. It won’t tell die hard Stones fans too much they don’t already know, but Broomfield shows proper reverence and criticism to a complicated figure that was both a product and symbol of their era.

At the age of nineteen, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones helped to found seminal British rock band The Rolling Stones, and contributed to some of their biggest early hits and bad-boy mythology. A lifelong fan of jazz and rhythm and blues, Jones’ intricate and accomplished guitar work helped to shape the direction of The Rolling Stones for quite some time, and in the early days of their time together, he was arguably a bigger star than Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. But around the time of “Satisfaction,” Jones started to drift away from his bandmates, personally and musically. They weren’t making the kinds of tracks Jones wanted to make, while the rest of The Stones found his rampant, increasingly troublesome drug use and unreliable, inconsistent appearances to be major liabilities. Just three weeks after Jones was split from the band, he would pass away at a shockingly young age.

Jones is a curious and memorable figure for Broomfield (Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Kurt & Courtney, Whitney: Can I Be Me?), who remembers a run in with the rocker during his youth on a train ride not long before his passing. There’s a personal love for the material shown by Broomfield, but his interjecting narration to add context often causes a jarring dissonance with the wealth of archival materials being showcased. But it’s not only Broomfield’s recollections that suffer from feeling oddly shaped and integrated. A lot of the interviews throughout The Stones and Brian Jones were either previously conducted for other projects and are already out in the public consciousness, or they were inconsistently filmed off of internet conference calls. Stylistically, The Stones and Brian Jones is a mess, but then again, so are many of Broomfield’s documentaries, a lot of which feel like projects that were put together on the fly without many permissions and a goal to fill gaps in later as he goes along. It’s a vexing way to offer up a biography, but those used to Broomfield’s style and M.O. will be accustomed to this.

But if the film isn’t a technical marvel, The Stones and Brian Jones does succeed in giving the man at its centre his proper flowers, and delivers them with a lot of love, empathy, and understanding for his many demons and shortcomings. The father of numerous children with many different women and a who’s who list of exes (including several girlfriends of former bandmates), Jones was the epitome of a “rolling stone” in the truest sense. He was also quite dedicated to connecting with the band’s increasing fan base on a personal and thoughtful level, and was always a lifelong learner when it came to being a musician, even working alongside Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles on the side. He was well liked, but also – like many addicts and troubled souls – a headache for anyone who had to deal with him at his worst. Broomfield isn’t trying to make a case that Jones was the only unsung key to the success of The Rolling Stones, but rather that his contributions have been overshadowed and forgotten about in the decades since his passing.

Broomfield not only has access to those who knew Jones well, but also takes a lot of his cues and structure from journalist and biographer Paul Trynka, who literally wrote the definitive book on the rock star. There’s not much in The Stones and Brian Jones that can’t already by found in Trynka’s book, but Broomfield’s work is honest and poignant, stopping short of being outright adaptation. The filmmaker never approaches Jones’ life like a cautionary tale or an outright tragedy, but rather a look at a talented person plagued by self loathing. The Stones and Brian Jones never backs away from its subject’s more unsavoury traits (especially while documenting his relationship with Anita Pallenberg, who is made out to be the worst influence on his psyche and temper) or the ways in which the band distanced itself from one of its founders, but it wants to paint an honest picture of an artist who never gets their proper due, and Broomfield wants to do it without demonizing or deifying him. It’s an imperfect film, but the mission is accomplished.

The Stones and Brian Jones opens in select Canadian cinemas – including the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto – and is available on VOD starting Friday, November 17, 2023.

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