'The Stones & Brian Jones' Finds a Fresh Perspective on a Familiar Tragedy

Directed by Nick Broomfield

Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media

BY Ian GormelyPublished Nov 13, 2023

How much art can we chalk up to shitty dads? Like so many from his generation, Brian Jones's parents — particularly his father, Lewis — just didn't understand. Distrustful of authority and unwilling to conform, Jones was kicked out of the house at 17 and bounced from girlfriend to girlfriend, fleeing whenever commitment reared its head and fathering several children in the process. 

The struggle to impress his disapproving parents would haunt Jones for most of his life. It also inspired the creation of one of the defining acts of the rock era: the Rolling Stones. Jones formed the band when he was 19 years old and threw himself into the project. He saw the Stones as a purely R&B proposition and handpicked Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, who all responded to an ad he'd placed. 

"He was the heart and soul of the early Stones," laments filmmaker Nick Broomfield during the introduction to his documentary, The Stones & Brian Jones. "Yet, people today have never even heard of him." 

That's true in the sense that Jones has become more of an asterisk in the band's world-conquering narrative, as famous for being a charter member of the "27 Club" as he was founding the Stones. But anyone who scratches the surface of the band's history for more than a second will very quickly come to realize the important role he played. 

It's notable that neither Jagger nor Richards were involved in the making of this film; both are notorious for controlling the narrative around the band, and it's hard to imagine a movie like this emerging under their watch. 

Regardless, while not a hagiography, Broomfield isn't here to take down "The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band of All Time." Far from it. Although he's best known for iconoclastic takes on commonly-held narratives, Broomfield approaches Jones's life with uncharacteristic empathy. Broomfield met Jones when the filmmaker was a 14-year-old fan, and that early infatuation with the guitarist informs his approach here. 

Over the years, there have been many attempts to profile Jones and, by most accounts, there's little new footage or information shared in the film. Original Stones bass player Bill Wyman, Jones's closest friend in the group, sits for an interview with Broomfield, and he shares a recording of Jones playing with Jimi Hendrix, supposedly for the first time. But it's through archival recordings and contemporary interviews — many with women Jones was involved with — that Broomfield manages to unearth his subject's humanity, showcasing a charismatic star tortured by feelings of inadequacy. 

As the Stones' fortunes grew, the songwriting coalesced around Jagger and Richards, and they moved the band away from the pure blues approach that Jones favoured. Adding insult to injury, Jones's girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Richards. Whether that drove Jones deeper into drinking and drugs, and if that substance abuse was what drove the people around him away, is a matter for debate. But Jones became increasingly isolated and unreliable in the final few years of his life. By June 1969, he was out of the band he'd founded.

A month later, Jones was found at the bottom of his swimming pool, which is where most stories about the guitarist ends. But Broomfield concludes The Stones & Brian Jones with the free outdoor concert the Rolling Stones played two days after Jones's death, which Broomfield, then 20 years old, attended. Rather than performance footage, though, Broomfield focuses on Jagger reading Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais" in Jones's memory. 

The film's coda features a letter written by Jones's father, which was found in an ex-girlfriend's parents' attic 40 years after his death. It was an apology for the way he had treated his son. It's unclear if Jones ever read the letter, or if the two ever made proper amends, but it's a much more hopeful end to Brian Jones's tragic story than the one that is generally presented.
(Mongrel Media)

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