Sound: For anyone who has forgotten (or perhaps wasn't ever aware of) a time when The Rolling Stones didn't travel upon a charmed path, it's time to cue up Stones In Exile. The documentary chronicles the period when the legendary rockers were forced to leave England and flee to France due to overwhelming tax issues, an imperfect situation that essentially shaped the classic 1972 double album Exile On Main St. If you are on the fence about The Rolling Stones in general, you'll likely garner a newfound respect for the group and its labor of love upon viewing the Jagger/Richards/Watts-produced film Stones In Exile.
The Rolling Stones still had plenty at their disposal following the migration to France, but their comfortable and structured British lifestyle was pretty much eradicated. Stones In Exile provides better insight into the minds of Mick Jagger and the gang as well as a host of other essential individuals involved in Exile's recording as they struggled to deal with a completely different way of life. Opting to record in the basement of Keith's new villa, the Nellcte in Villefranche-sur-Mer, the conditions were shaky at best. What you hear on Exile On Main St. was the product of unsynchronized schedules, a wildly overheated basement, parties galore, band members forced to record in every room available (including the kitchen), and all-day-and-night sessions. Chaos would be a kind term.
Stones In Exile does feature clips of several tracks from the album, but the storytelling aspect is the primary focus. If you're hoping for a viewing experience that includes live performance after live performance, you could possibly be disappointed. What the film contains is something much richer in terms of historical value, whether there are impromptu acoustic sessions between Richards and Jagger or assorted photography showing band members sprawled across the heated basement floor. There is still a great deal of music spliced into the mix because of the film's obvious goal, but the insane history behind Exile On Main St. will keep you engaged regardless. // 10
Content: Because three of the Stones are the masterminds behind this project, the 145-minute DVD is filled to the gills with in-depth, personal accounts. Upon the first viewing of the film, it was hard to fully grasp why director Stephen Kijak opted for the highly artsy storytelling style that he chose. Instead of seeing your traditional, sit-down interviews throughout, you'll primarily only hear the voices as a myriad of photographs or related videos are projected on top of the conversations. It takes a little time to embrace that style, but it works beautifully particularly given the amazing photo archives provided. If that method doesn't mesh with you, fear not. The extras do feature the band members in sit-down extended interviews.
Also included in the bonus material is a behind-the-scenes look at Jagger and Watts revisiting Nellcte and the Olympic Studios, where most of the overdubs were completed, as well as a host of other top-name celebs extolling the virtues of Stones In Exile. The latter section didn't necessarily need to be as long as it did (everyone from Benicio Del Toro to Sheryl Crow to Jack White pipes in), but the other content is solid and informative enough that it can be overlooked. // 10
Production Quality: As was mentioned earlier, the style is not your traditional filmmaking format, but it was probably a more time-consuming project for the editors because of that choice. You could even go as far as to say it has an artsy vibe, but it never necessarily feels over-the-top or stuffy. There are so many amazing aspects (video footage, photography, original lyric sheets) that Stones In Exile truly allows the viewer to feel like they are truly getting a glimpse of those legendary recording sessions. // 10
Overall Impression: Stones In Exile is far from your standard documentary, but the end result is a satisfying one. Anecdotes are interwoven in the film, and it's hard not to be amused by an account that Jagger actually dozed up during a vocal recording or simply hearing a vintage interview of Keith saying "I'm rock, Mick's roll." The documentary is solid through and through, and the extras are the unexpected icing on the cake. If you're skeptical of The Stones' status in rock history, do yourself a favor and check out Stones In Exile. // 10