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March 31, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 13
 
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JONESING Stoned: The Original Rolling Stone
JONESING Stoned: The Original Rolling Stone
by Maggie Bloodstone - SGN A&E Writer

Traditionally, there are but 2 variations of the musical biopic, especially those dealing with Rock musicians: Rise-Fall-Rise, and Rise-Fall-Dead. Stephen Wooley's Stoned fits the latter category, a sort-of tribute to one of the great What-If stories in popular music: Brian Jones, the driving force behind the band that pretty much defined the term 'Rock Star' for the ages, ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. A brilliant natural musician born to play Blues, instead of following his muse to the ends of the tonal universe following his departure from the band he created, Jones ended up the first pop-culture casualty of the '60's, face down in his swimming pool, officially a "death by misadventure".

Jones' story, brim-full of sex, drugs, and Rock N' Roll, is an irresistible one for any filmmaker, and Stephen Wooley would seem to have the perfect pedigree to bring it to the screen, having worked with Neil Jordan as producer on scads of films designed to appeal to the young, edgy, and profligate in all of us (Absolute Beginners, Crying Game, Scandal). With Stoned, Wooley has definitely captured the look and feel of a vibrant and explosive period in our cultural evolution, but any real examination of the main character's personality or motivations is quickly sucked into the paisley-and- dayglo undertow. As it is, Stoned is a messy amalgamation of elements from film fiction like Velvet Goldmine and Performance, crossed with both provable and questionable fact. Wooley gets points for at least trying to enhance the aforementioned doomed-and-druggy Rock Star routine by taking the route explored by books published in recent years that make the case for Jones' demise as murder, most significantly Terry Rawlings' 'Who Killed Christopher Robin?', which fingers the alleged killer as Frank Thorogood, a worker on Jones' estate engaged by the Stones' front office to keep an eye on their rapidly deteriorating investment. The motive-? Jones was a rich, successful, lusted-after rock star&and Thorogood wasn't.

At least, that's the impression one gets from the film. Supposedly, Thorogood confessed to drowning Jones in a fit of pique similar to Wooley's depiction on his deathbed 25 years after the fact. Granted, people have killed for far less than simple jealousy, but specious motives seldom translate onto the screen. There's plenty of juicy material here to work with, but Wooley tries to cram too much into a hundred-some minutes, and still leaves too much out: a flashy montage designed to illustrate Jones' drug-inspired descent into debauchery and the occult includes images of Jones in a Nazi uniform, and what appears to be a goat with its throat slit. With no explanation, one would get the impression Jones became a Neo-Nazi Satan worshipper after taking acid. (For the record, it doesn't happen that way.)

His Majesty Prince Jones is a fascinating subject, both as an artist and human, and Leo Gregory, like the actors who portray the other Stones, at least looks the part, but gets little to work with as far as making Jones a fully realized character. In fact, sympathetic characters are conspicuously absent from Stoned, from the resentful Thorogood to the smarmy Stones handler, Tom Keylock, to the ice-queen gal-pal of both Jones and Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg. Still, it's eye-pleasing and period-perfect, as in the use of black & white film in the Stones' pre-stardom flashbacks, and that gooey, grainy type of color common to late '60's underground film in later scenes. And Wooley liberally laces the soundtrack with enough genuine Blues numbers (the Stones were, after all, a Rhythm N' Blues band-in the beginning) to make you forgive him for playing 'White Rabbit' over Jones' first LSD trip&it still gives me acid reflux to think of it.

If Wooley wanted to preserve Jones' musical legacy, it would have been better served by a documentary with an accompanying CD of Jones' soundtrack from Volker Schlondorff's Mord Und Totschlag and his 'Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka', a collection of Morrocan music that preceded the 'World Music' boom by over a decade. If Wooley succeeds in inspiring youngsters to seek out further info on Jones and the geezers who comprised his little pub band back in the day, then Stoned's existence is justified. But, as coherent, introspective storytelling-well, better you should follow the title's suggestion, and see it in that condition.

Stoned opens March 31, at the Varsity theater, 4329 University Way N.E.

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