“For a few months in 1989 and 1990, before another band from another northern city, Nirvana, roared toward global dominance, the Stone Roses held the future of rock ’n’ roll in their hands like a scepter,” writes Jeff Gordinier in the New York Times. “The age of vinyl albums was coming to a close, and even the sound of the Stone Roses, which somehow managed to bring together the malicious snarl of punk, the gossamer shimmer of psychedelia, the strident individualism of the mod movement and the druggie, collective thump of rave culture, conveyed a sense of: ‘This is the beginning. This is the end. All rock ’n’ roll roads lead here.’” The occasion for this rhapsody is The Stone Roses: War and Peace, “Simon Spence’s new look at the rise and fall of the ultimate Band That Dropped the Ball.” It’s book that, unfortunately, “has all the joy and lyricism of a tax return.”
But there’s hope yet for a summertime Stone Roses revival, at least in the UK, where Shane Meadows‘s new documentary, The Stone Roses: Made of Stone, is opening today, to be followed on June 21 by Mat Whitecross’s Spike Island, taking its title from the legendary May 1990 concert on the reclaimed toxic waste site in Cheshire, a concert that, as the Guardian‘s Laura Barton puts it, “has become the stuff of Madchester legend, rhapsodized, euologized, recounted ad infinitum.” Barton’s visited Whitecross’s set, observing that his film “plays on ideas of myth and memory to capture the precise moment when one band seemed to eclipse all else. Penned by actor and screenwriter Chris Coghill, who appeared in Shameless and 24 Hour Party People, it follows a gang of Mancunian teenagers who find their city in the throes of musical delirium. As they drift through the final days of their education, their minds are occupied with humdrum concerns such as job prospects, ill parents and fledgling crushes; but also with wilder ambitions, namely ‘redecorating’ the school gym in the style of Stone Roses album artwork, the plight of their own band Shadowcaster, and of course finding a way to blag their way into the Spike Island gig.”
“The film tries to conjure up the maverick élan of the time in bowl haircuts, flared jeans and fly fishing hats but ends up flattening it down to a comic-strip, slapstick caper,” finds the Telegraph‘s Bernadette McNulty. “Shane Meadows’s lovingly made documentary Made of Stone is far more successful in distilling the moment, not by looking to the past, but by observing the band and the fans at last year’s reunion. He reveals the potency of those seminal songs and the devotion for the band that has transcended Spike Island and still exists as an inspiring reality today.”
Bit of background from David Jenkins in Little White Lies: “As a whippersnapper growing up in Uttoxeter, director Shane Meadows decided to drop acid for the first time on the day he was supposed to see the Stone Roses play their iconic Spike Island gig in Merseyside. They were (and are) his favorite band, but, temporarily stranded in a hallucinogenic fug, he handed his ticket to a random stranger. It was lost. The Stone Roses: Made of Stone is not just a cut-and-dried promotional document of the feud-inclined combo’s long-awaited reformation, but a chance for Meadows to relive a moment he thought had slipped away forever. This dream is rendered in stylish, high-contrast monochrome, the same used by Meadows for his miniature pre-teen moonlight flit movie, Somers Town. This endearingly earnest documentary runs with the notion of rock stars as mythic creatures.”
“In its sheer warmth, energy and sense of purpose, this film could be Meadows’s best so far,” suggests the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Made of Stone comes in three acts: a triumphant free gig for echt fans (they need to bring CD inserts or other paraphernalia to get tickets) at Warrington’s Parr Hall; a tricky mini-tour in Europe during which drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren throws a bit of a strop and it looks as if all the old animosities are rising to the surface; and then a colossal event at Heaton Park, captured by Meadows with fiery confidence and flair.”
“In his fiction films, This Is England and Dead Man’s Shoes, writer-director Shane Meadows walks a fine line between Ken Loach-style social realism and dark-edged nostalgic fantasy,” writes Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston. “He’s pulled the same trick with his first doc, which falls between the studied sanctimony of a Martin Scorsese classic rock doc and the fashionable blood-on-the-walls tone of a behind-the-music confessional.”
“Made of Stone is made by a fan for fans,” writes Kieron Tyler at the Arts Desk. “Despite overuse of split screen, some of the new performances of the music are wonderful: spine-tinglingly lovely. Rehearsing ‘Waterfall,’ the reunited band sparkles like tinsel—a word of caution though: the film’s credits include a ‘re-recording mixer’ and a ‘live dubbing mixer.’ What’s heard is not necessarily what was played on stage.”
The Financial Times‘ Nigel Andrews finds the doc “deferential sometimes to the point of dippiness. Such is the long shadow of This Is Spinal Tap that nearly every rockumentary seems to imitate the master imitation: young twerps in medium-long hair make music and mouth on about life, meaning and the next gig. Thank goodness Meadows plants himself on screen too, a genial, medium-lugubrious ex-skinhead, confiding his worries about the purpose and likely outcome of his cine-mission.”
And for the Telegraph‘s David Gritten: “There’s not a whiff of corporate polish here; the passion it evokes leaves glossier rock docs—one thinks of those featuring U2 and the Rolling Stones—trailing far behind.”
Miranda Sawyer has a good long talk with Meadows for the Guardian.
Updates, 6/22: “Mat Whitecross made a real impression in 2010 with his excellent biopic of Ian Dury, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. And while Spike Island “isn’t quite as distinctive, it’s a heartfelt picture with the right kind of energy and sentimental euphoria.”
Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston: “Spike Island has the music on its side: slap the closing solo from ‘I Am the Resurrection’ over just about anything, and you’ve got guaranteed uplift. Whitecross’s direction is distinctive and the cast do their best with limiting material. (mydelta8store.com) But from the daft nicknames to the naff period references, from the drippy central love story to the shameless plays for audience sympathy, none of this ever feels remotely honest or real.”
Made of Stone “had the ripe aroma of a film that could remember this music the first time it was performed,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “Sniff all you like, but Spike Island smells of nothing.”
Update, 6/23: Samuel Wigley talks with Whitecross for the BFI.
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