Director: Morgan Neville
Cast: Keith Richards, Steve Jordan, Tom Waits, Buddy Guy, Waddy Wachtel
Watch Keith Richards: Under the Influence online in the UK: Netflix UK
Director Morgan Neville has an excellent track record when it comes to music documentaries. He won an Oscar for 20 Feet From Stardom and told a terrific Memphis story in Muscle Shoals, so it’s easy to see why The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards tapped him for directorial duties in this entertaining, but rather shallow, trawl through the rock star’s muddy waters.
The title refers to Richards’ musical influences rather than the legion of illegal substances he has ingested in his lifetime and that is, indeed, the focus of this likeable doc. The Stones’ love of the blues is well-documented and features heavily here, but Richards also expands eloquently on the impact of country music, reggae and what he describes as “all that great rubbish ’50s pop”. In addition, Richards offers some touching reminiscences about the musical influences in his own family, such as his music-loving mother (“a wizard on the radio dial”) and the grandfather who teased him into becoming a guitarist, hanging a guitar on the wall and telling him he could play it when he could reach it.
Happily, Richards is more than willing to reminisce about the early days of the Stones, trotting out the story of how he and Jagger bonded over Mick’s Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters LPs, and offering up some amusing anecdotes, such as the time they were arrested for topless bathing in the States, because their hair was so long that onlookers thought they were women.
Neville structures the film loosely, interspersing chatty interviews with Keith and talking head contributions from various friends and collaborators (notably Tom Waits, blues man Buddy Guy and producer Steve Jordan) with a wealth of terrific archive material that includes concert footage, still photographs and film and TV clips – including a hilarious shot of Dean Martin rolling his eyes after introducing the Stones on Hollywood Palace.
There are a number of excellent highlights for Stones fans, including: some great footage of the band recording Sympathy For The Devil (accompanied by Richards discussing the song’s evolution); an amusing spat between Richards and Chuck Berry (Richards says Berry punched him and laughs that “I was one of Chuck Berry’s greatest hits”); and Richards revealing that there are no electric guitars on Street Fighting Man and demonstrating how the distinctive sound was achieved by distorting acoustic guitar through a portable cassette recorder.
The main problem is that Richards’ collaboration with Neville has come at a price, namely the inclusion of a significant amount of promotional material surrounding Richards’ new solo album, Crosseyed Heart (out now in all good record shops, etc), his first such project in 23 years. Similarly, though Richards is undeniably entertaining company (he has an endearing habit of substituting the end of a sentence with a raspy growl), this is essentially hagiography and there’s a frustrating lack of depth as a result. This is especially irritating on the few occasions where Richards touches on some interesting issues (such as referring to his mid-’80s five-year spat with Jagger as World War Three or musing on the “ball and chain” of his public image), only for the film to quickly pass over them. This is an entertaining and enjoyable watch for fans and newcomers alike, but it’s a shame Neville didn’t dig a little deeper.
Keith Richards: Under the Influence is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.