Review: “The Stone Roses: Made of Stone”

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Someday, hopefully, I will get to see the Stone Roses in concert. But until then, Shane Meadows’ documentary “Made of Stone” will have to suffice. It’s a solid film — I gave it a B+ in my review for The Film Stage — and simply a must-see for any fan of the band.

Until inimitable singer Ian Brown, guitar god John Squire, affable bassist Mani, and long-MIA drummer Reni congregated in a London hotel in October 2011 before a throng of world press, Manchester’s Stone Roses seemed as unlikely a reunion candidate as the Smiths, the Jam, Talking Heads, and the Beatles. (Yes, I’m aware of the inherent difficulties in the latter reformation.) But as This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes director Shane Meadows shows us in the documentary Made of Stone, this fan-fantasy really did occur. The resurrection was captured by Meadows and his cameras, and for those fans who were unable to make it to the band’s overseas shows, or its headlining Coachella gig, the documentary is the next best thing.

That makes it a vital, important visual document, and a mostly satisfying film — emphasis on “mostly.” Made of Stone is the fans’-only film in excelsis, and that is part of the charm, for the larger-than-life, ever likable Meadows is as big a Roses junkie as there is. As a filmmaker, though, Meadows is in a tricky spot. He has attempted to create a film that both thrills Stone Roses obsessives, yet also provides some context for the novice. As fascinating and enjoyable as the end result is, Made of Stone spends too much time trying to justify its existence, and not enough time actually presenting us the band as it exists today. However, any real Roses fan will likely emerge pleased, so deep has the desperation been since the mid-90s. Meadows has unearthed a stunning treasure trove of footage, much of it dating back to the band’s early, vaguely goth-y youth. As the film progresses, the band’s strange, fractured history is revealed.

In short: The Stone Roses emerged from the late 80s “Madchester” scene with an intoxicating sound that was equal parts Byrds and Acid House, punk and Hendrix. Confident, surly, and wildly talented, the band recorded a self-titled debut album still considered by many to be the best LP of all time, held its own mini-Woodstock at Spike Island, and disappeared — for nearly half-a-decade! — into an abyss of drugs and Zeppelin obsession. The overhyped, destined-to-disappoint Second Coming followed, and soon after, an already splintered group drifted even farther apart. Reni left first, then Squire, and after a surly, disastrous headlining slot at the 1996 Reading Festival, Brown and Mani called it a day.

This was an expectedly messy breakup — the Roses never did anything half-assed — and in the years that followed, Brown lobbed verbal bombs at Squire, the guitarist seemingly moved from musician to full-time artist, Mani smartly joined with Primal Scream, and Reni laid low. In the intervening years, the band’s original cheering section aged, and new fans discovered the majesty of The Stone Roses every day. By the time word leaked that the group was, indeed, planning a resurrection, a sizable portion of followers had the same response: “Seriously?!” Meadows knows this feeling better than anyone, and smartly opens the film backstage, as the aforementioned Soho Hotel press conference was about to begin. It’s fascinating to watch the four hang out, then take the stage, spouting lines like, “Hatred is wasted energy,” and “Our plan is to take over the world.”

Meadows jumps ahead a few months, and gleefully explains that only 10 weeks remain until the Roses’ triumphant homecoming shows at Heaton Park in Manchester. Clearly, the filmmaker’s assignment — “to make,” he says, “a documentary about your all-time favorite band getting back together after 20 years” — is a joyous one, and Meadows certainly captures this sense of “WTF?!” Sometimes he captures too much of it. After some rehearsal footage (the first song the band plays is not “I Wanna Be Adored” or “She Bangs the Drums” but the swirling shuffle that is “Something’s Burning”) a surprise show is announced for Warrington, a town west of Manchester. Ever the band-of-the-people, the Roses asked fans to bring CDs or shirts to gain admittance. The film spends way, way too much time talking to these fans; while the long sequence hammers home the band’s importance in the eyes of its fans, the faithful go on, and on, and on. One line from Mani, “I’m like a kid on Christmas morning,” is far more moving.

The Warrington concert footage is a Made of Stone highlight, and soon, the Roses’ tour is in full swing, with Meadows on the sidelines in Barcelona, Lyon, and Amsterdam. It is in the latter city that things take a turn for the worse: Following audio problems, Reni walks out. It’s a highly dramatic sequence, and movie-wise, it’s a godsend. “Things are … Tricky,” Meadows says, as newspapers spit out headlines like “Stone Roses split up again!” Happily, the split did not last, and we are finally on to Heaton Park, and a band ready to prove why it all still mattered. By the time Brown, Squire, Mani, and Reni perform a mesmerizing “Fool’s Gold,” it feels as if we are witnessing more than just a reunion, but another chapter in the history of an essential group. This is goosebump-inducing stuff, indeed.

If, that is, you already love the Roses. If not, Meadows never quite gets to the heart of what made the Stone Roses seem like such a breath of fresh air amidst the pomp of U2, et al. The performances are stellar, the old footage is compelling (especially some wonderfully awkward interview clips), but what is both a larger context and, more essentially, the voices of the band today. Squire and Reni almost never speak, while Brown and Mani talk in circles, enjoyably. Over the end credits, the boys sit and laugh together on a flight, and we cannot hear what they’re saying. As my friend, a Roses die-hard, put it, “I want to hear that! Not another fan.” Perhaps Meadows was kept from including some of these off-the-cuff discussions, or perhaps he was simply so mesmerized by the performance and archival material that he made the call to minimize the interviews. That’s understandable, and even without an abundance of such footage, “Made of Stone” entertains, and occasionally captivates. “I missed all the really cool gigs,” Meadows says with a sigh early on. Thanks to his film, those of us who share his predicament can say they were there — almost — for the third coming.

Wednesday Round-Up: I Wonder What Andy Warhol and Jack Nicholson Were Talking About …

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A diverse mix of links highlight this week’s round-up, including the U.K. debut of Shane Meadows’ new Stone Roses doc, the screening of a Woody Allen classic in Buffalo, and, of course, more on the box office failure of “After Earth.”

  • I hope you’ll be reading more from me soon on “Made of Stone,” Shane Meadows’ fly-on-the-wall documentary about the reunion of the mighty Stone Roses. It likely won’t get much play in the United States — and the meh reaction to the band’s Coachella headlining performances won’t help — but hopefully American anglophiles and Britpop freaks like myself will have a chance to see it soon. The film’s website has some cool details on the production and some great interviews, like this one, with Meadows. He seems to have a real understanding of how utterly important this group is to fans, and I’m sure that comes across in the movie; as the director of the great “This is England” puts it, “If you attach yourself to certain people at a certain point in your life, they never become human again, they’re always gods. The Stone Roses are like that for me.”
  • The web has been aflutter with David Lynch news this week, including word of a new album (featuring the lovely Lykke Li) and a strange piece of video that seems to indicate a new film is in the works. Lynch holds a special place for me, which I’m sure will come up on this site. Two of my favorite DL memories involve his 21st century classic, “Mulholland Drive.” The first is seeing it with my girlfriend (later wife) and friend while he smuggled in a messy Arby’s meal, and the second is staying up until the wee hours of the night with friends in college, breaking down “Mulholland” for our Paranoia and Film class. These five theories on WTF is happening in the film have been around for ages, but it’s always fun to revisit.
  • Coming this Friday and Saturday at the Screening Room in Amherst: “Sorry, Wrong Number” at 7:30 followed by “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” at 9:15. I imagine Woody Allen’s “Tiger Lily” would be a fun group watch.
  • I really enjoyed this piece on the horrendous “A Good Day to Die Hard” that Scott Mestow wrote for The Week. I’ve always been a big fan of the series; “Die Hard 2” was one of the first R-rated films I ever saw. And I even thought “Live Free or Die Hard” was moderately acceptable. But “A Good Day” … It was a stunner on every level, and not in a good way. The film is on DVD and Blu-ray now. See it, and you’ll agree with me.
  • New York Magazine has a cool slideshow featuring images from the Andy Warhol: American Icon exhibit in Maine; my favorite is the Jack Nicholson pic above.
  • I’m not sure anyone is truly shocked that “After Earth” flopped, but the complete failure on every level, from box office to reviews, is noteworthy. So for Sony, what now?
  • I’m on the Indiewire network of sites several times a day, and Shadow and Act is one of my favorites. Here, the site’s Tambay A. Obenson points out how a recent New York Times story on what he refers to as “The New York Times’ annual ‘state of black cinema’ (broadly speaking) nod,” is pretty much “the same damn thing” he wrote on the blog recently. As a longtime reader of the site, I can tell you that Shadow and Act offers a far superior analysis of these issues day-in and day-out than the Times does in one story.
  • Finally … What the hell happened to Mary Harron?

 

Wednesday Round-Up: “Alfie,” Bradley, Kafka, and “Vice”

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A pretty diverse mix on this Wednesday, May 29. Incidentally, many of these have already been re-Tweeted by me at Twitter.com/FilmSwoon. If you’re not following me there yet, you should be.

  • For those in Buffalo: Hallwalls’ Jazz Noir series comes to a close tomorrow night with an iconic sixties classic: “Alfie.” Michael Caine is easy to imitate, but pretty hard to duplicate, as Jude Law discovered.
  • Grantland has posted an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary short on former Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk. It’s titled “Cutthroat,” so you pretty much know where this is going.
  • Also on Grantland, Mark Harris calls Bradley Cooper “the smartest star in Hollywood” — even after the disaster that was “The Hangover Part III.”
  • Speaking of Bradley Cooper: I’m not sure David O’Russell’s upcoming “American Hustle” will have elements of comedy, but with this wardrobe and hair, I have to think it will.
  • I’ll be sharing thoughts on Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” soon; here, the supposedly retiring director talks about a recut of his fascinating second film, “Kafka,” a notorious flop.
  • The cool U.K. music site Louder Than War looks at ex-Stone Roses manager Gareth Evans.
  • Mondo can always be counted on for killer posters. These, for “The Silence of the Lambs,” might be two of the creepiest they’ve conjured.
  • Lastly, I’m about to re-read Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice,” which Paul Thomas Anderson is currently shooting, and part of the reason I want to dive back into the tale of Doc Sportello is to try to trace who is playing who. Check out the cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Josh Brolin, and possibly Sean Penn. The best site for keeping track of the additions is the phenomenal “definitive Paul Thomas Anderson Resource, Cigarettes & Red Vines. Every day seems to bring a cool new cast addition.