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Stone Roses: Made of Stone

Posted: 01/06/2013 00:00

It seems like the dream ticket - This is England film director Shane Meadows takes on the task of documenting the comeback of legendary band, The Stone Roses.

Quality director, seminal band, what's not to like?

Well, quite a lot as it turns out, for Made of Stone is far less than the sum of its parts.

Describing the documentary as a 'love letter' Meadows has freely admitted that as a devoted fan of the Roses his aim was to celebrate the re-union of the group rather than to dish the dirt. Fair enough, but Meadows's reverence for his musical heroes is a weakness which results in a flawed film that is too little insightful documentary and too much standard concert footage.

The reasons for the initial split are washed over, the motivation for the comeback scarcely touched on. So what if it was for the money - I'm a fan too, I really don't care - but a basic human curiosity impels me to want this question answered or at least addressed by the man charged with filming the comeback. The only probing question - posed at the re-union press conference - comes, pointedly, from a music journalist rather than from the film-maker himself.

The worst example of this whitewash occurs about half-way through the film when a warm-up concert in Europe goes badly wrong with drummer Reni bolting early from the stage and clearing off home in a huff. Ian Brown is left fielding a chorus of boos and tries to appease the crowd by calling his drummer "a c**t".

With the band seemingly on the verge of imploding yet again, we'd expect some follow-up actuality, a word with the singer perhaps, or at least a clear-the-air chat a day or two later with the drummer. But no, there's none of this. Instead the film cuts to Meadows the director - supposedly post-gig - sat on the side of a non-descript hotel bed telling us that the atmosphere in the Roses camp is currently somewhat tense. But surely it's the job of the documentary director to capture that, to film it, to talk to the band about it, rather than resort to telling us about it via a lame video diary update.

It feels like something of a cop-out.

It feels like he's trying to protect them. It also feels like Meadows doesn't want to ask awkward questions and be responsible in any way for potentially jeopardising the band's survival. I can understand this - he's a fan and heck, there's a lot at stake here - but ultimately it means he is not up to the job of directing this film. That doesn't mean I wanted the director to go on a mud-raking mission, it just means I wanted the real story to be told in a truthful way rather than in the tiptoe manner that makes this more of a brand product than a genuinely revealing documentary.

To be so resolutely on-message is understandable for someone so enamoured of the band. And it pains me too to be critical but you can't ignore the fact that Meadows doesn't seem to want anything - least of all his camera - to get in the way of a smooth passage towards the Heaton Park comeback gigs. It's a real shame this, because paradoxically it is Meadows's love for the Roses, his burning desire for things to work out, that actually prevents him from telling a truly interesting, original and engaging story about them.

That said, any Stone Roses fan will still love this film. The gigs are great, full of collective joy, celebration and unity, and of course fantastic songs. And yes, there are moments of brilliance - the opening sequence of Ian Brown walking down a sea of adoring fans is mesmerising and beautifully shot.

But I can't help but feel that Made of Stone could've been so much more.

I found myself imploring Meadows to get more involved, to interact, to tell us something about The Stone Roses that we didn't already know. Perhaps there were filming restrictions imposed upon him, but for whatever reason, we never get any real sense from Meadows of who this gang of lads are or where their interests or motivations lie - just that they used to be in a great band and are now getting back together after a very long break.

The only person who ever actually talks to camera - very sparingly- is bassist Mani. There's the occasional larking about backstage and in rehearsal but none of the band ever actually talks to Meadows in any meaningful way.

There's a moment that encapsulates this lack of personal interaction when the camera is focused on the Stone Roses backstage door before the Warrington gig. It opens and Liam Gallagher exits with Ian Brown bidding him goodbye. Brown sees the camera, smiles and closes the door. The camera stays focussed on the spot. An instant later Brown re-opens the door with just his head visible and peers out. He looks to camera, holds the look for a couple of seconds, and then closes the door again. And that's it. That's the sequence. But it reveals a lot: We're very much on the outside here, with not much of a look-in.

While we may not gain exclusive access to the Roses' inner sanctum, the least you'd expect is a word or two from one of the band about their thoughts before they go on stage to perform together in England for the first time in over a decade. But you get nothing. Are they playing any new songs? No idea. We don't hear any.

No questions are asked, and so nothing is answered.

Contrast that with the sequence of the build-up to the same gig where fans of the band queuing up outside for tickets are interviewed, one after another, for a full twenty minutes. While there are a few great moments here, some funny and touching snapshots of Roses followers, this is painfully overlong. Worse, it's footage which serves to highlight further the total lack of any half-decent interaction with the subjects we - and they - had all come to see.
Made of Stone had such great potential but in the end, it's really just a series of set pieces - the comeback gigs - bolted together with archive footage.

In fact, it's within the archive that the nuggets of this film are to be found. There's an interview with John Squire and Ian Brown responding brilliantly to amusingly inane questions from a pop journalist the week before the release of their brilliant Stone Roses album. It is surreal and mesmerising - two soon-to-be icons on the cusp of greatness and who both know it. They look amazing, they sound charming and entertaining; which only makes it even more frustrating that Meadows singularly fails to engage them in the making of this documentary.

 

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