Compressing The Rolling Stones’ 50 years of existence into a little less than two hours is no mean challenge. That’s just what director Brett Morgen does in the Crossfire Hurricane, a documentary that aired on HBO in late 2012. Now on Blu-ray, the film packs a ton of rare vintage performance and interview footage into an hour and 51 minutes. Surviving members of the Stones, past and present, contribute in the form of audio interviews recorded specifically for this project. Title cards tell us that no cameras were allowed while these interviews were being conducted.
With Mick Jagger on board as a producer (and Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood credited as executive producers), Crossfire Hurricane is an in-house, authorized production. That cuts both ways, as it usually limits objectivity when the documentary’s subjects are in charge. It’s the band’s official story, ultimately the way they want it told. Thankfully this is no whitewash, with plenty of time spent discussing the substance abuse problems that plagued the group for years. Sadly overlooked by many second and third generation Stones fans, the late Brian Jones (1942-69) is given due time as the documentary covers the band’s early years. Some of the most thrilling live footage is taken from this period, including an early gig that ends in an onstage riot with fans literally overtaking the stage. Watts gamely attempts to hold down the beat even after it’s clearly a lost cause.
The Mick Taylor era, 1969-74, is the other most heavily covered period in Hurricane. We get a fair amount of coverage of the disastrous Altamont concert, during which Hell’s Angels members (on hand in some sort of security capacity) murdered one concertgoer. This stuff will be familiar to any who has seen the Maysles brothers' excellent documentary Gimme Shelter (1970). We hear some frank recollections of the recording of the 1972 landmark Exile on Main Street, a period when Richards’ drug usage, in particular, was creating an issue. By the time the film gets to Taylor’s departure and Wood’s joining, there isn’t much time left. If anything, a “part two” might’ve been in order since Hurricane basically ends with the commercial triumph of Some Girls and its accompanying tour.
As most of the footage assembled here is decades old, Eagle Rock’s Blu-ray looks as good as the source material allows. That’s a wide variety, ranging from scratched up, small gauge B&W footage to very clean, pro-shot, full color material. Despite all that, everything looks as good as it can. Just be ready for a mix of aesthetically disparate visuals. There’s an audio choice between LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 track is not the most immersive, with some live clips filling out the spectrum more effectively than others. Again, the fidelity naturally varies from period to period, depending on the limitations of the production gear used for any given event. It all sounds as good as can be expected, so no complaints here.
As for supplements, the focus here is on some of the band’s earliest film performances. We get nine songs from four different performances, two in ‘64 and two from ’65. A ten-minute interview with director Brett Morgen sheds some light on certain choices that were made, such as why the contemporary interviews are audio-only. It’s not a wealth of material, but the early performance footage is a great inclusion.
Crossfire Hurricane benefits from the non-academic approach taken by Morgen. It’s not a catalog of dates or statistics, nor is it a purely self-serving, self-congratulatory promotional piece (despite the band members’ presence as producers). As Morgen explains in the interview, the film works as a cinematic experience. Obviously with a group that’s been around for as long as The Rolling Stones, a far more in-depth piece could be made. But for something that’s watchable in one sitting, Crossfire Hurricane is compelling from start to finish.