It's a snappy and appropriate title to Brett Morgen's entertaining HBO documentary on the Rolling Stones. While the phrase comes from the memorable song Jumping Jack Flash, it also expresses the aggressive public lifestyle of the Stones, and the theme on which the movie is based - counter-culture icons and the epitome of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll persona.
Crossfire Hurricane (2012) dir. Brett Morgen
By Alan Bacchus
The arc of the Rolling Stones from swinging '60s Beatles rivals to massive drug-using psychedelic superstars to their status as venerable arena supergroup veterans is entertainingly put together by Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) and timed with the 50th anniversary of the band.
By focusing almost solely on the vagabond media-aware lifestyle of the band, the film eschews the familiar narrative style of other rock-docs. This is the story of the Stones from the media's point of view, and the Stones' evolution in tandem with the audience's perception of them. Morgen admirably concentrates on the best years ('64-'74) and only breezes through the rest of the lesser and insignificant latter years of the band.
It's a curiously rocky start to the film though, as it takes 12 minutes or so of loosely cobbled stock footage edited together without form in the opening before settling down into its formal narrative. We're saved the childhood beginnings storyline, instead jumping right into the launch of the Stones in England as a scruffy blues band looking to find its place in pop music landscape heavily weighted to the Beatles. The relationship of the band to the media is succinctly articulated by Keith Richards when he explains that from the outset the Stones were given the black hat to wear, while the Beatles had the white hat. Beatles: good - Stones: bad was the simplistic division but a comparison the band embraced and furthered to the extreme.
Morgen's assembly of black and white stock of the Stones' early days playing riotous shows in England is riveting. At every show riots were routine and security guards fighting off hysterical fans from storming the stage was commonplace. Wearing the bad boys label allowed Richards to push his increasingly hedonistic lifestyle, becoming a very public figure for drug use. Everyone in the band was doing it though, and Morgen seems to have free rein to show shots like Mick taking a bump off a Bowie knife in full view of the camera.
Audio portions of a modern interview conducted without cameras present allow the band to reflect on these fast times without us having to see them as the withered old men they are today. So it's the Rolling Stones in their full glory all of the time. The familiar events in the history of the band are given adequate attention, including the Brian Jones death, the Altamont concert, Richards' and Jagger's numerous drug-related arrests, and all the touring debauchery in between. That said, while explicit with the drugs, Morgen never delves into the sexual appetites of the men - an aspect only implied from the healthy use of backstage footage.
If anything, what we miss most is a more detailed look into the artistic process of the band, the creation and evolution of the signature sounds and the recording of their classic songs. As such, Crossfire Hurricane doesn't seem to be the last word on the band, but perhaps the leanest, most invigorating and stimulating account of the influential rock and rollers.
Crossfire Hurricane premieres on HBO on November 15