When in October 2011 the seminal British guitar band the Stone Roses announced their reformation, acclaimed director of ‘This is England’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ Shane Meadows was asked by Ian Brown to document the reformation. From the rehearsal room to Heaton Park via a free gig at Warrington and turbulence in Amsterdam, ‘Made of Stone’ is Shane Meadows’ love letter to the Stone Roses and is released on June 5th; we sent Fergal Kinney to its premiere in Manchester to get his verdict on the most anticipated music film in years.
An earth shattering album, years in the wilderness, another less than earth shattering album before a very public meltdown – the oft flouted marketing byword ‘enigma’ is relevant perhaps solely in the case of the Stone Roses. Shane Meadows, as both a fan of the band and a director, is faced with an almost impossible brief – to craft a film which celebrates the enigma without shattering it. ‘Made of Stone’ edges along a tightrope where the pitfalls and constrictions of rockumentary cliché lie waiting beneath, and somehow manages to come out the other side a film that is not only a fitting testament to one of Britain’s most celebrated and misunderstood bands, but a film that stands up in its own right amongst Shane Meadows’ best.
Rather than sagging with the weight of detail and fact, the film works on what the audience already knows about the band and the myth to form a perfectly shaped narrative. The archive footage in itself is fascinating, and its employment to document the band’s ascent, stagnation and destruction through a collage of concert footage, news reports, old interviews and home footage is powerful. The band are traced from the friendship of Ian and John at school (John: “The friendship that defines us both”) to early incarnations of the Stone Roses via forays into scooter runs, punk and the intervention of one Geno Washington at a party. Shane Meadows of all people in ‘Made of Stone’ and ‘This is England’ has an acute understanding of the British youth culture that the young Stone Roses embraced and would later dramatically shape.
Meadows is a master of the implicit; so much is said in the just the flash of band members with newborn babies as ‘the Second Coming’ falls around them or a shot of the band looking sullen in an airport after the Amsterdam incident. Indeed, whilst much has unsurprisingly been made of Meadows’ controversial decision to turn off the cameras following Reni’s walk-out at Amsterdam but the film does deploy an implicit, subjective candour in depicting in the incident. The unmoving linger of the camera on a visibly strained Ian Brown as he addresses the Amsterdam audience is excruciating, and from Reni’s exit into a van to Shane Meadows’ monologue to the camera the morning after it’s obvious how real the likelihood of the reformation derailing was. ‘Made of Stone’ is a celebration of the Stone Roses; dwelling on the negative scorches the narrative and Meadows ventures as near to the bone as is possible without damaging the euphoria of the film. And it certainly is euphoric.
Whilst the band give no direct interviews to the camera, through the remarkably open backstage and rehearsal footage the bond between the band members is explored and left open to interpretation. Instantly, the band are gurning to one another and the camera, doing impressions (Ian Brown’s impersonation of Trojan reggae classic ‘Double Barrel’ is a moment in itself) and the ease and affection within the band is what carries the rehearsals. The first music the reformed band perform in the film is an early practice of ‘Where Angels Play’ which sounds anything but primitive and developing. Amsterdam aside, it’s the European tour footage that potrays the most warmth within the band; a particularly triumphant gig in Lyon ends with a mass throwing of cushions from the audience onto the stage which is a spectacle matched only by the appearance of Eric Cantona backstage, effortlessly cool with a can of Kronenberg and cigarette in hand.
In a culture heavy with cynicism and perpetual wariness, there’s an argument that to inject something with love and warmth in all of its naked naivety is perhaps the most avant-garde and striking thing you can do. ‘Made of Stone’ bursts at the seams with love and warmth; the love of a band for one another, the love of the breathless punters at Warrington for the band – for an ideal of the band and youth – and the unspoken power of music. The emotional heart of the film is certainly the Warrington gig – the fans of all ages dropping everything without a jot of hesitation in the hope of making the front of the queue for the free comeback gig announced at the last minute. The humour and humanity of Shane Meadows’ filmmaking is omnipresent through each fan interviewed around the venue, be it the life-affirming jubilance of the office worker feigning a heart attack to get out of work or the hope crumbling into despair of the fan who comes too late – and there are plenty of them. Meadows never shirks from depicting the humour in the humdrum and whilst it may be his love for the Stone Roses that won him the job of directing the film, it’s his fascination with the fans that makes this film what it is. His ability to see familiar characters including himself in the fans at Warrington is how ‘Made of Stone’ manages to penetrate into something much deeper than the standard concert film. There’s something in the Warrington fans talking with unshaken passion about their Stone Roses soundtracked youth that echoes through the footage of the band themselves in private – men now older with changed responsibilities and priorities trying to recapture, or at least re-assess, the youth that defines them.
The concert footage itself is a triumph; the energy greater than the sum of the parts that the Stone Roses are is captured here probably for the first time. The split screen focusing on each member of the band as they rehearse ‘Waterfall’ at John Squire’s countryside base candidly documents a band gaining confidence and recapturing the sonic bond that binds them, whilst the heavily extended ‘Fools Gold’ from Heaton Park that closes the film – intercut with footage of spaced out fans, a girl in the audience undressing and a hoard of fans forcing down the industrial fence into the concert – is a cinematic delight.
‘Made of Stone’ dodges cliché, vanity and indulgence at every angle; bypassing the traditional obsessions with quarrel and legal wrangles for a bold, uncynical celebration of something far greater than the Stone Roses themselves. Shane Meadows excavates past hype, hyperbole and even the fragility of the inter-band relationships to find a powerful human story and an intensely impressive document of a band finally making incarnate their long threatened ambition.