Who Killed Cock Robbin?
Death dates of the past’s rich or famous are more ascertainable than their DOBs. Even more blazoned in heaven and on earth, the passings of today’s celebrities are often associated with their youth and unnatural finishes. Few such untimely ends, however, seem to have faded like that of Brian Jones, the subject of Stoned, long-time executive producer (most notably for Neil Jordon) Stephen Wooley’s directorial début, on which he is also producer.
The 1969 death of that Rolling Stones’ founding member was officially an accidental drowning, unrelated to relatively low traces of drugs and alcohol in the blood. Once storied for his talent, style, women, and drug use become alcoholism, the twenty-seven-year-old and his departure had so far dropped below the radar that the world little noted when, on his deathbed a quarter-century after the fact, London builder Frank Thorogood confessed that, with two accomplices, he had forcibly held the musician underwater in his estate swimming pool. Nor was there much of a ripple when three separate books flatly contradicted the original coroner’s report, including one by Jones’s last, live-in ladyfriend, Anna Wohlin (Tuva Novotny in this film), who claimed strong-arm coercion as the reason for her and three other witnesses’ long silence.
Scripted by Robert Wade and Neal Purvis from a decade’s investigation, Stoned is good cinema but suffers from a cleft stick occasioned by the nature of its own subject. Though there are color and b&w re-creations of the group, the English culture-change era, and the boys’ packaging as satanic foil to the angelic Beatles, the filmmaker does not rest too heavily on the remaining Stones, leaving them as dark, slight, and very young presences who appear but wisely do not overwhelm. (The flesh-and-blood Stones have not reacted strongly to this film one way or the other.) However, try as one might, the cultural weight of the presently touring megagroup tends to intrude, and this distracts from what, in a void impossible to achieve, might have been excellent, not so much as murder mystery as a parable of the clash between two deceptively strong wills and of a victim whose conscious or unconscious goal may have been to force his own victimization.
Whereas Van Sant’s interesting Last Days chose to focus on the delusional inner workings of its Kurt Cobain figure, Stoned softens its character’s pretty unanimously reported nastiness, and mental disintegration, by placing him more within an outside context. But the father’s wrath at his teen son’s impregnating a fourteen-year-old -- a second such paternity is omitted -- does not in its few seconds bear out the “loveless childhood” bit, and equally wide of the mark is that the film “is symbolic of the death of the hippie dream, the loss of innocence and idealism,” with the Jones-Thorogood (the name is real) clash “represent[ing]” naïve if hedonistic rebellion vs. “conformist middle England.”
From the opening corpse discovered floating on its back, arms outstretched on the surface, to the closing -- contradictorily facing downwards and on the bottom -- this is the tale of the star (Leo Gregory), sexually voracious but near androgynous in person and quasi-Edwardian dress, humiliating and corrupting the staid married builder (Paddy Considine), experimenting and pushing him to quiet deadly rage. Parallel is the narcissistic ruthless world that the music industry was becoming on that cusp of Manson and Altamont: cynical road manager and libertine factotum Tom Keylock (David Morrissey) the link between the two principals; the not undeserved forcing out of Jones, for his descent into stupefied unreliability and persona non grata status with U.S. immigration; the cruelty with women and, in particular, Brian’s shattering breakup with Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur), who drifted on to have two children with Keith Richards (Ben Whishaw) and a fling with Mick Jagger (Luke de Woolfson) on the set of Nicholas Roeg’s first film, Performance (which, uncredited, she cowrote).
Except for Tom’s abused Janet (Amelia Warner), the groupies are willowy blondes, drawn to fame but tender with undeserving Jones. Lost love Anita greases his slide into s&m and drugs but balks when he spins out of control. Now a two-hundred-fifty-pound naturalized American, the real-life femme fatale appeared in two related films, as the stunning lesbian Black Queen out to corrupt Barbarella and as Jagger’s Turner’s girl in Performance. Amidst casual female nudity only male genitalia are shown in Stoned, its flirtation with sadistic rocker-builder homoeroticism anticipated in the faded fey rocker and brutal hit man in that latter film as well as in the initiation into kinky sex, thrill killing and murder of the initiator in Lawrence Sanders’ book (softened out in the movie) The First Deadly Sin.
While Jones joyfully records tribal music in Moroccan mountains, his mates desert him in a Rolls Royce. Were there anything nice about the man, one might feel pity, but the Hyde Park homage evokes no sympathy for this devil whose “happiness was boring” is a ludicrous coda some years later. This film might have been much more, rather intriguing as psychological study if only the unavoidable Jones biographical baggage could have been checked at the door.
(Released by Screen Media Films; not rated by MPAA.)