(Above: Leo Gregory as Brian Jones in Stoned)
Director: Stephen Woolley
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Starring: Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine
Studio info: Screen Media Films, 102 mins.
Unraveling the peculiar murder of The Rolling Stones’ legendary multi-instrumentalist
Freshly ousted from The Rolling Stones and still feeding an insatiable drug habit, guitarist Brian Jones sank to the bottom of his swimming pool on July 2, 1969. The 27-year-old Jones’ toxicology report revealed relatively low doses of drugs and alcohol, eliciting the coroner to declare “death by misadventure,” and prompting fans to spend the next several decades cooking up loads of conspiracy theories. Stephen Woolley’s Stoned magnifies the most prominent hypothesis: that Jones’ thorny relationship with Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine)—the working-class builder he hired to renovate his country home, Cotchford Farm (the former dwelling of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne)—led to his death. Stoned slowly establishes how and why Thorogood was so easily lured into Jones’ web of emotional and financial enslavement, and, in the film’s dizzying climax, Thorogood—who supposedly confessed to the deed on his deathbed in 1993—murders Jones in Jones’ own backyard.
Thorogood’s assimilation into Jones’ universe is weird and riveting, but Stoned is ultimately a story about girl trouble, and its inadvertent misogyny is both irksome and uncomfortably apropos—legendary muse Anita Pallenberg (played by the beguiling Monet Mazur) pumps Jones (Leo Gregory) full of drugs, then ditches him for Keith Richards when she witnesses the scope of his addiction. Pallenberg spends at least 80 percent of the film topless, and nearly every other woman in the Stones’ story is either an enabler or a sycophant. Consequently, it’s not terribly hard for viewers to draw a line, however faint, from Jones’ death back to Pallenberg’s curt dismissal, and to watch several women try, and fail, to save him: Jones’ disarming spiral into depression and dependency is anchored by a broken heart, and even if it’s Thorogood holding him under water, suspicious eyes still inevitably drift back to the naked ladies screaming in the background. See Yoko Ono: it’s always the girl’s fault.
Jones’ post-Pallenberg love interest, the Swedish-born Anna Wohlin (Tuva Novotny) eventually wrote a book about his murder (2001’s The Murder of Brian Jones), and Woolley used it, along with two other speculative books, to assemble the film’s narrative. According to British reports, Woolley also hired a private detective to track down a fourth, previously untapped source—Janet Lawson, a London nurse and Thorogood’s girlfriend at the time of Jones’ murder. Lawson’s supposed testimony makes Stoned the most definitive statement of Jones’ demise.
The rest of the Stones pop up periodically, all sporting either terrible haircuts or ridiculous wigs, and Woolley seems to inherently understand the weaknesses of his subjects—Jones’ intense blues fetish (he even declares Thorogood’s partial blindness “partially cool”) clashes with the Stones’ poppier tendencies, and Jones’ career-killing insistence that rock ’n’ roll stay rooted in the Delta should anoint him a hero of sorts for rockists everywhere. Stoned marks Woolley’s directorial debut (he’s better known for producing), and his penchant for using wobbly camerawork and foggy montages (accompanied by Jefferson Airplane’s default drug anthem, “White Rabbit”) to convey drug abuse is a visual tic that, however accurate, is also pretty tiring. Regardless, Stoned is intriguingly subtle about Thorogood’s exact motivations, and Considine’s expert portrayal of an easily seduced everyman is spot-on—which means Stoned is not only a surprisingly good rock ’n’ roll biopic, it’s a fascinating meditation on the wicked lure of fame.