You would if you could.
Maybe you would. Me, I'd rather be John Malkovich. Or at least see that movie.
Mick Jagger wants us to believe he's The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business. (He can't be, because I think James Brown has that phrase trademarked.) In this promotional documentary, Mick is juggling the production of a motion picture—Enigma, with Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott—with the making of a new solo album, Goddess in the Doorway. To hype both these projects, Mick has consented to having filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (whose One Day In September won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature) shadow him as he jets around the globe laying tracks for the album, periodically touching base with the movie crew, hanging out with the glitterati, and playing with a few of his expanding army of offspring.
Facts of the Case
Papa Was a Rolling Stone: Daddy Mick chills in the family enclave in Cologne, France, with three members of his brood. One of the first images we see is a closeup of the youngest Jagger, two-year-old Gabriel, with an index finger impaled so deeply into a nostril he appears to be scratching the rear surface of his left eyeball. (This initial picture does not augur well for the rest of the film.) Daughter Georgia May, age eight, likes to pretend she's Mae West. (An eight-year-old girl playing sex kitten does not augur well for the rest of her life.) Elizabeth, Mick's oldest child with ex-wife Jerry Hall, stands around pouty-faced, fraught with adolescent angst. The girls warble McCartneyesque "ooohs" on a backing vocal track for one of Dad's new songs. Gabriel, thankfully, does not sing.
I'm Just Waiting on a Friend: Mick and Elizabeth schmooze with famous pals at Elton John's benefit gala. Sir Elton, as usual, appears gaudily clad and rattily toupeed. Elton, thankfully, does not sing. Later in the film, Mick and Jerry—who though no longer married still share adjoining houses in London—throw a bash of their own for the beautiful people. Jerry, thankfully, does not sing.
You Can't Always Get What You Want: Mick and his brother Chris attend a cricket match. Mick would like to simply relax and enjoy the game, but he's besieged by media types pleading for interviews. "Can we do it in five minutes?" he asks one eager cub reporter. "Five or ten," replies the newshound. "Five," says Mick firmly. Asked why he wants Mick on his show, the reporter breathlessly replies, "Because he's one of the most interesting people in the world." (This guy obviously has not yet encountered Gabriel the sinus bandit.) In another interview, Mick expounds his philosophy of cricket: "A lot of the game is inevitable. Sometimes it's a bit like a porno movie…it's a little predictable." Unable to see any of the match for all the microphones in their faces, Mick and brother Chris head for home. On the way out of the stadium, as Mick dutifully scribbles autographs, the filmmaker comments from behind the camera, "A lot of hard work, this rock star stuff." "I'll say," allows Mick with a wry smile. Chris, thankfully, does not sing.
Under My Thumb: Mick drops by the set of Enigma, the World War II drama he's producing. "Intelligent movies are difficult to make; no one wants to give you money for them," moans the cinematic artiste. He decries the reliance of current films on gratuitous nudity and pyrotechnics. "That's not my thing, bombs and bottoms." (Hey, who are you, mister, and what have you done with Mick Jagger?) Neither Kate Winslet nor Dougray Scott, thankfully, sings.
Jumpin' Jack Flash: Mick bounds around the world hobnobbing with fellow music icons who jam with him for his new record: Bono, Lenny Kravitz, Pete Townshend, and Wyclef Jean each contribute either vocals or guitars to various tracks. In between sessions, Mick finds time to: spoof the local security staff at a German airport, pretending he's misplaced his passport; drop $5500 on rare volumes in a Los Angeles used-book store; go alligator-watching in the Everglades; vote in a London precinct; visit a vocal chord specialist in New York for his sore throat; take his father, a retired schoolteacher, to his daughter's soccer match; and exchange pleasantries with Prince Charles at Enigma's premiere. The Prince, thankfully, does not sing.
Still think you would, if you could?
Though I appreciate the Rolling Stones's role in shaping the rock music of my youth, I was never a huge Stones fan, and I'm particularly not enamored of Mr. Lips himself. That aside, Being Mick is not a very good documentary. Director Kevin Macdonald abandoned any pretense of objective documentary filmmaking and has made what amounts to a fawning, hour-long commercial-slash-image-rebuilding press release. The argon gas in a four-pack of 60-watt light bulbs would feel weighty by comparison, and be far more illuminating.
Every frame of footage included here is calculated to make Mick Jagger look like a nice guy—to garner sympathy for the Devil, as it were. We watch Mick doing his Cliff Huxtable riff with four of his kids and chatting with another by cellphone. He lets the girls sing on his album. He's best pals with his ex-wife, to whom he was never anything approaching faithful during their eight-year marriage. He takes his father and brother to sporting events. He signs autographs (though he declines a photo-op with a pair of obsessed fans whose behavior creeps uncomfortably close to stalking). He shrugs off the slings and arrows of tabloid journalists: when the lyrics to one of his new songs appear prematurely in the papers the day after the cut was recorded, Mick is more perturbed at the apparent in-house theft than with the ill-founded and malicious headlines. ("It's their business to print things," he says; "it's not the business of the people who work at the studio to nick things.") He works out. He eats right. He labors diligently and earnestly at his craft at a stage in his career when he could coast instead. He's kind to old ladies and puppies. Okay, I made up that last part, but you get the sense that if Macdonald could have engineered Mick bussing a few grannies and pooches, he'd have done it.
Documentary film is supposed to do exactly that: document its subject. Show things as they are, warts and all, and let the viewer decide what conclusion to draw. Unless everything the public has heard and read about the excesses of Mick Jagger during his now 40 years in the limelight has been baldfaced lies—and I'm willing to accept that perhaps some of it has been overblown—Macdonald is only telling half the story. When what the director permits us to see is so thoroughly one-sided, we begin to question the authenticity of everything we do see. It's not by accident that the copyright notice for Being Mick is credited to Mick's production company, Jagged Films. He may not have always been holding the camera, but there's little question that he was pulling the strings.
To be fair, if you're willing to accept this as the candy-coated confection that it is, parts of Being Mick are kind of fun. I enjoyed watching the studio sessions—at least, when the Jagger daughters weren't crooning, and the Jagger son wasn't running around underfoot. Mick truly does give his all to his music, and he is both collaborative with and demanding of the people with whom he works. As he makes clear at one point, he refuses to work with people he doesn't know and whose talent he hasn't personally evaluated and approved. If his guest players and producers happen to be the top names in the business, it's because Mick himself is one of those top names—they want to bask in his reflected glory and he wants his music to benefit from theirs. You also sense that behind it all, Jagger really knows how ephemeral this stardom thing is. He sees his dad, the career schoolteacher, and acknowledges, "That could have been my life."
For a made-for-television quickie (Being Mick premiered on ABC-TV on Thanksgiving Day 2001) shot largely on video, this looks a lot like a made-for-TV quickie shot largely on video. As its origins would dictate, it's presented in full-frame. It's frequently grainy and ragged, but that's for added effect as often as not. The audio, likewise, is what you'd anticipate from a documentary; except for the supplemental concert footage and videos, all of the music here is captured live and unrefined. Viewers expecting the entire production to replicate finished-recording-caliber sound will be disappointed, but this isn't a concert film.
For extras, we're treated to concert excerpts from the release party for Goddess in the Doorway, recorded live at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the music segments are intercut with interview clips of Mick talking about the album and the process of putting it together. Since we've already seen in the feature almost everything he's prattling about here, the interviews are superfluous. I would have preferred just the unsweetened concert footage, without the gab in between.
Next up are videos for two songs from the album, the raucous rocker "God Gave Me Everything" and the somewhat more melodic "Visions of Paradise." Both are enjoyable Stones-style numbers, and the videos are fun and well-produced, but here again, if you've watched the film you've heard enough snatches from each of these songs that you could sing them yourself by rote. (Plus your enjoyment of these will depend in part upon your tolerance for the facial contortions of 58-year-old Mick Jagger up close and personal. Don't eat before you watch.) The video for "God Gave Me Everything," though, is interesting filmmaking in itself: the piece was shot with a Steadicam attached to a harness Jagger wore around his waist, and has a wonderfully surreal feel to it. A third video, shot like an outtake in raw, purposefully grainy black-and-white, features Jagger at home with just an acoustic guitar, singing the melancholy ballad "Don't Call Me Up."
"Home Movies" appears to be little more than 17 minutes of footage that was edited out of the main event. Did you ever have an acquaintance (these people are not your friends) who bored you to near-extinction with their self-indulgent camcorder drivel? It's not any more fun when your acquaintance is a world-renowned rock star. Trust me.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In his dressing room at the premiere of Enigma, Jagger jokes about his conversation with Prince Charles, who was incredulous that so noted a British subject as Mick had not yet been knighted. Chuck must have got the word back to his mother, because on June 14, 2002, in conjunction with Queen Elizabeth II's birthday celebration, Mick Jagger, Exile on Main Street, became Sir Michael Philip Jagger. Time is, indeed, on his side.
I didn't get no satisfaction. What I got was an hour-long plug for Mick's solo record, with sidebar plugs for his flick Enigma. I want more realism and truth from a documentary than Being Mick was prepared to serve up. This one is for the Stones- or Mick-obsessed only. Let's not spend the night together with this DVD—because I used to love it, but it's all over now.
Kevin Macdonald is guilty of betraying his sacred trust as a documentary filmmaker. The Court sentences him to six months of watching Gabriel Jagger rhinomining while his sisters pretend to be the Ronettes in the background. We're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Music Video: "God Gave Me Everything"
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