The Stones and Brian Jones Nick Broomfield

Nick Broomfield: “I’ve avoided doing music documentaries with the authorization of the musician or estate in order to maintain a critical perspective.”

During his early school days, Nick Broomfield (Bigge & TupacKurt & CourtneyMarianna & Leonard: Words of LoveWhitney: “Can I Be Me”) encountered Brian Jones, the innovative force behind the Rolling Stones, in a serendipitous train meeting. At this point, Jones was basking in the pinnacle of his fame, commanding global attention, yet his life would tragically end just six years later.

Broomfield would go on to make The Stones and Brian Jones, an unauthorized documentary that delves into the intricate dynamics, both personal and competitive, that shaped the early years of the Rolling Stones. It captures the defiant spirit and vibrant energy of the 1960s—a period marked by clashes between generations and tumultuous shifts in sexual norms—drawing significant parallels to the societal landscape of today.

Ahead of the film’s 2024 IN-EDIT NL closing night presentation, we spoke with Nick Broomfield on its origins, research, as well as parallels with his own life, and more.

What jumpstarted your interest into Brian and this story? You mention a chance encounter on a train as a teenager. I once had a similar encounter with Keith Richards once on a flight from London to New York. I though it interesting he was even on that commercial flight. For you, is there a wider story there?

It was a seminal moment when I met Brian Jones at 11 or 12, going to boarding school. As a filmmaker, you look for things that have moved you at one time or another and incorporate those elements into the story you choose to tell.

The wider story is a universal one, almost a biblical story of the relationship between a child and his parents. That very complicated relationship, where, in Brian Jones’s case, they didn’t really recognize one another until it was too late. Brian had spent all his life trying to get his parents’ approval and failed. His father and mother realized, way too late, who he was and what he needed. That’s a biblical story as old as the hills, which is obviously clothed in the excitement of the 60s and pizzazz of the Rolling Stones..

Since it is such a universal story, did you find yourself either emotionally or spiritually connected with Brian, his contradictions, or his approach to creativity and artistry?

Yes, I think we all have those elements of destruction in us that Brian had. Despite his enormous talents, he suffered from self-criticism and self-loathing. He really didn’t believe in himself. That was very different from the other members of the band. Mick and Keith developed their belief in themselves, but Brian was very self-destructive.

We all have that little voice telling us what we’re doing is no good. I think every filmmaker does. When they look at their film, they think no one’s going to want to watch it. Brian suffered from this in a very extreme way.

In modern therapy-speak, this would be called “imposter syndrome”.

The Stones and Brian Jones
The Stones and Brian Jones, a film by Nick Broomfield

What about your perception of Brian or even of the Rolling Stones? Did that change or evolve from the beginning of production to the end?

I had no idea that Brian had actually formed the Rolling Stones and that he was much more musically advanced than the rest of the band. He had played over 200 gigs before he formed the band. He had studied music in a very intricate way, almost academically. He knew how to weave with the guitars and taught Keith how to do that. I hadn’t realized the extent to which he was so influential in the first couple of years before Mick and Keith started composing themselves.

Also, I think, I hadn’t realized that he was the one who was receiving most of the fan mail for the first year. A rivalry developed, which was never mended, because of the natural frontman Mick and his own kind of charisma.

From a filmmaking perspective, what were the ethical considerations when working on a film about a deceased person who cannot speak for themselves?

Brian himself is a very controversial figure who gathered a lot of very negative press. He had a way of rubbing people the wrong way and deliberately alienating them. I tried very hard to understand how Brian became Brian. Why was it that he behaved the way he did? I included many of his ex-girlfriends in the film to get a sense of the enduring love they still had for Brian, which certainly some of his band members didn’t.

As a filmmaker, you look for things that have moved you at one time or another and incorporate those elements into the story you choose to tell.

As you have made several documentaries about musicians, where there any who reminded you of Brian Jones?

I have occasionally. But, it’s mostly Whitney Houston. Again, somebody who wasn’t given the chance to really write their own songs, and who didn’t have the self confidence to do that. She also didn’t have the support from her parents, who were very negative influence. She also became very self destructive. The title of that film was, “can I be me”. The hardest thing was for Whitney to be accepted as Whitney. Clive Davis created this fictitious character background for her. But a lot of a lot of artists are very vulnerable people. They are complex characters who have a dark side, and that dark side is also very much a part of their creative process. It manifests itself in in different ways.

What was the process of gathering the archive footage? A notoriously difficult and time-consuming aspects of documentary production.

Gathering archives and clearing music licenses was probably the bulk of the production time. This is the most archive-heavy film I’ve made, and it’s hard to even describe how time-consuming it is. We had three researchers working six months before production, and they barely scratched the surface. The really good footage, the gold, took even longer to find. You’d be rummaging around in people’s storage bins, garages, and attics to get it. Working with archives is fascinating but extremely difficult and time-consuming. Editing with archives is also very time-consuming because of the relationship between the voices and the archive footage you’re creating. Pulling interviews out because they pulled the audience out of the 60s was a difficult and costly decision. For example, pulling interviews out because they took the audience out of the 60s was a difficult and costly decision.

What are your impressions on the genre of music documentary becoming more prominent? I feel like it is due to streaming, but not necessarily in terms of quality. It is more about name recognition.

Streamers want an inbuilt audience and don’t take risks on films without name recognition. This has led to a lot of music documentaries that aren’t critically appraising their subjects but are curated by the musicians or their estates. It’s limiting and shows the negative influence of streamers on documentary filmmaking. I’ve avoided doing music documentaries with the authorization of the musician or estate to in order to maintain a critical perspective.