Every fan of The Rolling Stones or even those who only hail Exile on Main Street as a masterpiece should have this DVD in their collection. “Stones in Exile” is monumental on so many levels.
For the uninitiated, in the spring of ’71, The Rolling Stones were facing a huge tax penalty on past earnings. They had just fired Alan Klein for mismanagement of their finances after finding out he hadn’t been paying their taxes to the Crown (93% tax rate at that time … the DVD puts it in perspective … “If you earned a million quid, all you’d get was 70,000 pounds). So, the band did the only thing they could do to possibly repay the debt, they exiled themselves to France to make their tenth studio album. After searching high and low for a suitable recording studio they opted to set up shop in the basement of Keith Richards’ rented estate, a 16-bedroom villa built in the 1890s, and record there using their own mobile recording truck. Over the next six to seven months, the band carved out the skeleton of what would become one of the greatest albums of all time.
“Stones in Exile” is the story of the making of Exile on Main Street, as told by the people who lived it. Not only are all five Stones (including Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor) represented, there is input from Bobby Keys (saxophone and percussion), Anita Pallenberg (Richards’ live-in girlfriend), Marshall Chess (who was running the Stones’ record label at the time), producer Andy Johns, Dominique Tarle (the photographer who showed up at Villa Nellcote for a photo shoot and ended up staying six months) and more. The brilliance here is that the story of the album (and the experience itself) is told pretty much equally by all who participated. It’s not heavily weighted towards the Glimmer Twins. Plus, the interviews are complemented by rarely seen photographs from that period and video from the infamous documentary “Cocksucker Blues.”
And the best part? The extras. The main presentation is only about an hour long. It’s short, but satisfying. The extras add about 90 minutes to your viewing time. There are extended interviews with all of the Stones (except Jagger), Pallenberg and others; including Taylor’s replacement Ronnie Wood. There’s also a short feature showing Charlie Watts’ and Mick Jagger’s return to Stargroves (Jagger’s Paris estate where tracks were started) and Olympic Studios in L.A. (where the album was finished). The interplay between the two is priceless and underscores a friendship and working relationship that is more than 45 years old.
The downside? The celebrity fans. The Stones don’t need validation from anyone. Exile on Main Street doesn’t need validation from anyone. The celebrity fan interviews are gratuitous and insulting. It seems participation was based on current levels of fame and appeal: Jack White, Will I Am and Caleb Followell (Kings of Leon, who embarrasses himself by not knowing much about the album). In the bonus section, Liz Phair is also featured and comes across as annoyingly as she always has. The only interview that makes sense is Martin Scorcese.
Still, celebrity fan interviews aside, this is a great watch.