A few words on one of the the most notorious rock documentaries of all time.

RollingStones In 1972, photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank followed The Rolling Stones on their North American tour, in support of their album “Exile on Main St.”  The resulting documentary, with a profane title I don’t feel like repeating here, ended up presenting the band in such an unflattering light, that they sued Robert Frank to prevent the film’s release.  To this day, the film has very strict conditions about how and when it can be screened.  As such, it is absolutely amazing that TIFF managed to not only arrange a public screening of the film at the Bell Lightbox (as part of a free retrospective of Frank’s films), but they managed to show the film without the condition that the director be in attendance.  I suppose the exception was made partially due to the fact that Robert Frank is now pushing 90 and probably unable to make the trip (the fact that the film was screened by a cultural organisation as part of an overall retrospective was also likely a factor). Due to the rarity of the film and the free cost of the screening, this one of the most busy non-festival screenings I have ever attended in the 3+ year history of the Bell Lightbox.  I was smart enough to start lining up an hour and half before the screening (I was third in line), since there were hundreds of people waiting by the time they let people into the theatre.  This was definitely an extraordinary circumstance when it comes to TIFF’s free screenings, which usually consist of experimental films, with a niche audience.  The screening of this documentary received a lot of attention and tickets were gone 2 hours prior to show time (I thankfully managed to get my ticket 3 hours prior).  I read some criticism on Twitter saying that TIFF should’ve been more clear about when or how they were giving away the tickets and that they should have provided the option for them to offer tickets online. I personally don’t think that an online option would have worked, since the tickets would have disappeared a lot quicker that way. The sad truth is that TIFF doesn’t often hold ultra-rare screenings like this and that the Bell Lightbox only has so much space. It was truly a once in a lifetime event and I was happy to be part of it. As for the film itself, I very much enjoyed it.  I can completely understand why The Rolling Stones were unhappy about this film.  While the film doesn’t really portray the band in a negative light, it is completely unflattering in its uncensored depictions of the sex, drug use, and general debauchery that went on off-stage.  However, I thought that this helped to make the film one of the most brutally honest rock documentaries that I have seen, which includes some great musical performances.  I liked the film so much, I wish that the Stones will eventually allow the film to be properly distributed (at least through something like the Criterion Collection). Once again, I am happy that I can check this notorious film off of my cinephile bucket list.

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).