The Stone Roses: Made of Stone: Film Review

The polished music documentary charts an unexpected comeback by a cult Britrock quartet.

Director Shane Meadows captures the phenomenally successful return of resurrected Manchester rock legends.

LONDON - Semi-retired rock legends reforming for lucrative reunion tours has become commonplace in recent years, but the return of the Stones Roses in the summer of 2012 still felt like a momentous event to a large demographic of British music fans. Charting the band’s unexpected comeback after 15 years of bitter estrangement, culminating in three massive shows in their home city of Manchester, this polished documentary by director Shane Meadows is set for UK theatrical release in early June. Further big screen interest is possible in Asian and European markets where the band still enjoy a healthy following, though home entertainment platforms seem more likely in countries where they have more of a cult profile, notably the US.

Led by the charismatic but hot-tempered singer Ian Brown and the taciturn virtuoso guitarist John Squire, the Stones Roses had the winning combination of good looks, working-class swagger and classic-rock lineage that seemed to guarantee Beatles-sized success with the release of their hugely acclaimed eponymous debut album in 1989. Instead, they became mired in lawsuits and personal rifts, released an underwhelming second album, and dissolved in acrimony in 1996. But their godlike reputation only grew stronger during their 15-year sabbatical. So much so that they sold out all 220,000 tickets for last summer’s three huge homecoming shows within 14 minutes.

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Best known for hard-edged social-realist dramas such as This Is England, Meadows is unashamedly a Roses fan, never concealing his starstruck delight during his few on-screen cameos with them. Co-produced by the band’s manager, this film is clearly an officially endorsed promotional affair, discreetly glossing over sensitive subjects –notably the toxic cocktail of drugs and ego that led to their original split, and the long years of post-divorce feuding that followed. Thankfully, Meadows is also a smart enough film-maker to let viewers read between the lines, subtly weaving archive audio quotes from Alfred Hitchcock and William Burroughs into the concert footage to help illuminate the volatile personal chemistry between Brown and Squire. The tone here is celebratory, but not fawning.

Made of Stone does not attempt to encompass the band’s entire career, though Meadows does include some rare teenage home movies, early concert footage and hilariously monosyllabic TV interviews from the 1980s. Otherwise his focus is on the reunited foursome in post-comeback mode, shooting lengthy monochrome footage of their top secret rehearsals. Vox pops with devoted fans clamouring to get into a low-key warm-up show in the small town of Warrington, close to Liverpool, illustrates the deep reverence that the group still command, especially in their native northwest England.

A very public bust-up between Brown and drummer Alan “Reni” Wren onstage in Amsterdam allows Meadows to shamelessly ham up the dramatic tension, even though the happy ending is never in any real jeopardy. He bookends the film with superbly shot color footage from the Manchester shows, complete with soaring aerial shots and reverential slow-motion close-ups of Brown playing resurrected rock messiah to the adoring crowd. Made of Stone is not a definitive bio-doc on the Stone Roses, but it is a persuasive testament to their enduring combination of musical talent, prickly charisma and indestructible arrogance.

Venue: London press screening, May 9

Production Companies: Warp Films, Big Arty Productions

Producer: Mark Herbert

Director: Shane Meadows

Starring: Ian Brown, John Squire, Gary Mounfield, Alan Wren

Cinematographer: Laurie Rose

Editors: Matthew Gray, Chris King, Tobias Zaldua

Sales Company: Warp Films

Rating TBC, 96 minutes