Brett Morgen Directs The Rolling Stones
Director Brett Morgen has earned critical acclaim directing award winning documentary films like “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “The Chicago Ten” and “June 17, 1994″ for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. So it’s no surprise that Mick Jagger picked him to direct the new Rolling Stones documentary. He stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk about the new film, “Crossfire Hurricane” with Ron Bennington. The Rolling Stones doc premiers on HBO tonight, November 15, at 9pm. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: First of all, congratulations because this documentary jumps from the second that you put it on right down to the last scene.
Brett Morgen: Yeah, well I have a theory which is if you want to know the history of the Stones you should read a book. If you want to experience the Stones, you should see “Crossfire Hurricane”. It’s a film about the Rolling Stones. It should be nothing short of fast and furious and it’s very immersive.
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Brett Morgen Talks About the Darkness the Stones Had to Survive
Ron Bennington: Well, you totally get the chaos of the times that they lived and for somehow these guys were able to surf those waves. Now not everybody in the band made it through every wave because…but if you look back on it, it had to be the toughest thing in the world to be able to surf those times.
Brett Morgen: Yeah well, that which doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger. And I think in the case of the Stones, they just – they had this momentum. It was like a wave that’s just propelled them through all these different bumps in their paths. And when we put the film together – when I looked at the first cut of it, I was like – Jesus Christ, this is fucking dark. It was just like one thing after another after another after another. And Mick saw it and was like – it’s dark, dark, dark, dark. And we sort of took it down a bit, but it’s a heroic story man because they persevered through it all and nothing can stop the Stones. When Brian Jones, in 1962, looked across his apartment and saw a Muddy Waters album and decided to call the band the Rolling Stones – he could not have picked a more appropriate title.
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Comparing the Stones to the Beatles
Ron Bennington: Here’s the weird thing too. At everything they do, who are they compared to? Lennon and McCartney. Every step of the way. So no matter what they wrote, no matter what they did – people also went over and looked at the Beatles. I thought it was amazing in retrospect, the fact that they realized and thought for themselves – we will kind of be the anti-Beatles. We won’t be the sweet boys.
Brett Morgen: Yeah well, as Keith says it was an easy role for them play. And in 19..I think it was some point in ’64 where John Lennon and Keith were talking and John Lennon said to him – man, I wish I was in your band. It was a lot more fun. Because at that point, the Beatles were still sort of buttoned down. So yeah, but that was the thing about – if you’re gonna… you have to go through history and pick one band to be in – you want to be in the Rolling Stones because you can do anything you fucking want. And the worse you do, the more praise gets heaped upon you. I mean it’s like fucking Dionysus or something, what a fucking life. And not only have they lived it, but those who have read Keith’s book know – they can tell the story.
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Getting Chosen to Direct a Rolling Stones Documentary
Ron Bennington: Right. These are really great communicators. How did you get the call for this? It came pretty fast?
Brett Morgen: Yeah. I had done a movie called “The Kid Stays In The Picture” about Robert Evans.
Ron Bennington: Great movie.
Brett Morgen: And I got a call, not that long ago…about a year ago from Mick Jagger. My agent’s…cell phone…”who the fuck is this?” Oh it’s Mick Jagger. Mick called and he said he wanted to make a film. But he didn’t want to do a mini-series or anything. He just wanted it to feel like a movie. And I said, well you know, if we’re gonna do a movie – we can’t do 50 years in 2 hours. We’re going to have to pick a story and settle on it. So, I sort of do the story about how the Stones became respectable, if you will – which is the end of the film. So it goes from ’63 to ’81 – which quite frankly is where most Stones fans sort of…that’s our favorite part there, so it was great man. It was a crazy job. I was talking to someone today and saying – imagine if your job – if you were getting paid and here’s the next year of your life, right? You’re going to get paid to watch every frame of footage of the Rolling Stones and then spend 80 hours interviewing them.
Ron Bennington: It’s unbelievable.
Brett Morgen: It was a great job. It’s like a lottery or something.
Ron Bennington: The other part of it too is like they are ready to tell their story now, more than they were years ago. Because there’s great stuff in there where Charlie’s being kind of a prick to interviewers. And they’ve always been known for that, but it is time for them to say – look, this is our legacy. This is who we are.
Brett Morgen: You know you can’t force someone to tell their story when they’re not ready. And I think that now that Mick approaches 70, he realized that if he didn’t tell the stories, someone else would. And it was better to do it themselves. And I think that Mick has a reputation for being sort of a difficult interview. A bit cagey. And he has to be because everyone’s always trying to pry into his life. I mean imagine for 50 years, man, you’re under the microscope, but he was great in our film, man. And he opened up. There was nothing – no subject that was taboo.
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Brian Jones’ Role in the Band
Ron Bennington: And in a lot of ways, it’s the tale of 3 different guitar players at 3 different stages. Because you’re basically looking at 3 Stones bands. You, of course, start with Brian and then Mick (Taylor) is in there, who’s just…I mean, the music is phenomenal when Mick Taylor joins the band. And then when Ronnie Wood joins the band, he kind of brings a lot of light and a lot of fun to the band. So, depending on what you think of one of those ages, is where you’ll say this is my favorite Stones music. But overall, you’re seeing the way those guys adapt as musicians as well.
Brett Morgen: Yeah well, Brian, who the guys give a lot of credit to in the film as being the great musician of the band. He kind of stopped playing guitar at some point. And that really was…set about his downfall. Because it forced Keith to do a lot of the lifting for him and he was a great multi-instrumentalist, but he just stopped sort of playing the guitar. And the whole Brian Jones story is just a tragedy. For those that don’t know, Brian Jones was the original founding member of the Rolling Stones. And in Brian’s mind, he was the leader. But it was really only in Brian’s mind because he’s not the front man and he’s not writing songs. And so as Mick and Keith started to get more and more acclaim, Brian, at the same time, started to get deeper and deeper into drugs. And as Mick says in the film – we all did drugs. It’s just Brian couldn’t really handle them the way that those guys could. And one of the things – people like, would be really surprised to hear in the film is Mick actually voices a lot of regret. He says something about looking back at it now, there’s a lot we probably could have done, but we were too selfish and self involved. You know we were 24 years old – 25 years old.
Ron Bennington: They were kids, man. And there was no rehab. And there was no idea on how long a band was suppose to go together. So you couldn’t think – hey, the band will take off a year because most bands once they stop putting out a single every 3 months, were done.
Brett Morgen: It’s true. It’s true. It’s really a tragic story what happened to Brian. But you know, it ended up being a…Brian left the band – he died 3 weeks later. And Mick Taylor came in and Mick Taylor – and most of the guys in the band will tell you – it was the best incarnation of the band. He’s just an amazing guitarist. For those who don’t know, that when Mick Taylor came in – I think at the end of “Let It Bleed” and did “Sticky Fingers”, “Exile on Main Street”.
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Asking Mick About His Influences and Mick’s Sense of Humor
Ron Bennington: They were a hungry hungry band. They were really talented. And at the same time incredibly ambitious. And it’s one of those things, of course Mick’s been with us for 50 years – so you forget until you start to see some of these camera angles – oh, this guy is so charismatic. There’s few performers in any genre who own the stage the way he does.
Brett Morgen: Yeah, I was asking Mick in my last interview, I said – “as he approaches 70, who were his role models? Who’s been there and done it the way he has to do it now?” It was the one time in my whole process he looked at me and said – you know, I’ve never been asked that. And we talked about it for awhile and we said – well, Frank Sinatra. But Frank Sinatra didn’t dance across the stage. And finally he looked at me and said – there is no one. We’re writing the script. And I think that Mick – man, I cannot wait to see these new shows because he’s in incredible shape. I saw the band rehearse for the first time – they played together in 7 years in May across the bridge in Weehawken. And they put their guitars on and they kicked into “All Down The Line”. And I was the only one in the room and it was just like the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.
Ron Bennington: Well, when Mick did SNL last year, he was phenomenal, phenomenal.
Brett Morgen: He’s really funny man. I mean people don’t realize it that Mick is really fucking funny. He does great…Mick can impersonate every guy in the band. And in fact, I would have loved to have done the film where it’s just Mick doing everyone in the band. He’s really spot on. And the guy’s got a fucking smile on his face. I mean he’s really at peace with who he is and what he is and so is Keith. I mean they’re all so unique. They couldn’t be more different from one another to be honest. Keith and Ronnie may have been separated at birth. But Jagger and Keith, definitely not. And Charlie Watts was like a 70 year old man when he was 20. They’re all such different characters.
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The Rolling Stones Archive Outside of London
Ron Bennington: But how many people know what it’s like to be a Rolling Stone. I mean there’s just a handful of people and the fact that you were able to grab everybody except for Brian and then there he is – still a young man on film. I mean the great thing about it is, so many of those things that were shot that I guess somebody in the Stones has saved all these years, huh?
Brett Morgen: Yeah well, they have an archive outside of London, man – which I don’t think anyone’s ever described it publicly. So I’m going to give your listeners a little taste of this place. I can’t tell you exactly where, but it’s outside of London. Nondescript building. Looks like it would be like “The Office” or something, right? Totally nondescript building in like an immigrant section of town. You walk in and they have a vault where every one of their masters is. And you literally, you go through and you pull something out off the wall and it’s the “Brown Sugar” recordings signed by…you know with Jimmy Miller’s writing on it. You go into another room and there are all of Mick’s wardrobes from over the years – going back 40 years. You go into another huge room and there are all their cars and all their film. I mean it’s like a museum. It is a museum that nobody’s ever seen. And I was like – this is it. This is where you keep like – pull something out – “You Can’t Hear Me Knocking”. And the great thing for me was I got to just walk through there, pull reels out off the shelves and go – can we transfer this? I wanted to hear was this session sounded like.
Ron Bennington: And there’s just like a guard in there and that’s it? Or how do they run this thing?
Brett Morgen: There’s two dudes in there. Two old guys in there and it’s like…who aren’t technically savvy. Like it’s not digitized. It’s totally not current. And you’re like – you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. But one them ran their mobile truck from ’72 on. I mean they’re great guys man, but it’s like this shit is not organized. But it’s all in there, I mean one day I walked in and I thought I had seen all the film and I see a can laying around somewhere where it wasn’t suppose to be and it says – Australia ’73. And I said – can we put this on the flatbed? It’s 16mm. And it was 8 minutes of home movies that Mick shot from the ’73 Australian tour, which are in the movie. If you watch the movie on HBO Thursday night at 9 o’clock – shameless. During the section where they do “Angie”, all the footage has never been seen before. It’s all stuff that Mick shot himself of the guys. And it’s pristine 16mm. It’s great shit. And probably the great treasure of this film was if you’re a Stones fan – you’ve either heard of or seen “Cocksucker Blues”. I transferred and sat through 40 hours of outtakes from the movie. And which, let me tell you – there’s not enough water in New York that could bathe you from the filth you felt from looking at that. I mean it was a really intense experience, but there’s a lot of treats and gems for the audience in this film and if you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. There’s still more to be seen.
Ron Bennington: We can talk about this forever, but I know you’ve got places to go and things to do tonight. “Crossfire Hurricane” premieres Thursday, November 15th, 9 o’clock on HBO. You can preorder “Crossfire Hurricane” on DVD and Blu-Ray. More information at HBO.com. Brett, congratulations buddy.
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Follow Brett on twitter @brettmorgen and at brettmorgen.com and for more info on the doc visit the official webpage at hbo.com.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.