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Was Rolling Stones founder member Brian Jones really murdered? This rock biopic has a controversial revisionist take on an iconic moment in rock's live-fast-die-young mythology
The image of Brian Jones floating face down in his own swimming pool has long epitomised rock 'n roll excess, a moral warning that goes down with a shiver of schaudenfraude. Jones' demise closely matched prevalent myths - the descending arc of Icarus, expressed in a minor key in the English discomfort with anyone who soars above their allotted station - and perhaps this is why the police did not investigate the matter too closely.
If we are to believe Stephen Woolley's Stoned, Brian Jones was not a victim of his own excess. He was murdered by a builder in the culmination of a sordid, exploitative homoerotic relationship. Frank Thorogood is meant to have confessed to the crime on his death bed in 1993. God knows what the truth of this affair would have done to the inflamed relationship between the counter-culture and the establishment back in the 1960s. Brian Jones would have been a martyr for the freaks, as opposed to a victim of his own appetites, perhaps.
Brian Jones (Gregory) and Frank Thorogood (Considine) have an intriguing relationship. The way foppish, omnisexual, filthy rich Jones bullies and slowly corrupts Thorogood makes a compelling core to the film: it is predator versus parasite; hippie aesthete versus straight bloke; blond hair versus black. But every time their strange chemistry draws you in, the clod-hopping artistry underlying the film stomps all over your suspension of disbelief.
It is increasingly hard to give a flying one about the 1960s, and settling this particular score 40 years on forces us, yet again, to sit through that decade's tiresome clichés. Director Stephen Woolley (as a producer, he has already revisited the 1960s mythology with Scandal and Backbeat) oversees a few jarring lapses; he has a tin ear for convincing delivery, splicing in a few takes that feel under-worked and jarringly false. Who let him use Dylan's famous line about "You don't know what's happening do you, Mr Jones?" as an ironic counterpoint to our hero's befuddlement? And why is the notorious hallucinogenic dimethyltriptamine (DMT) referred to as MDT? Maybe with all the builders around people got confused with MDF. The drugs don't work, unless you are making a shelving unit out of them.
Does cinema really need another LSD trip sequence scored to Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit', replete with degraded Super 8 stock a la Easy Rider? While it's hard to dislike a film that has as much nudity in it as Stoned, it does at times feel like a biopic of Leo Gregory's penis with a supporting role from Monet Mazur's nipples.
Director Woolley's propensity for obviousness (a useful talent for a producer wrangling an unruly script or director) means that the unearthly glamour of The Rolling Stones and their paramour Anita Pallenberg eludes him. None of their stardust rubs off on the film and Keith Richards (Whishaw) in particular comes across as pinched, prosaic and gauche. In meshing the various biographies around Jones' death, Woolley has paid fitting care to historical accuracy but he just doesn't have enough art in his quiver to convincingly bring the material to life.
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