“That’s going straight in the scrapbook” says director Shane Meadows early on in his music documentary “The Stone Roses: Made of Stone” which played at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival today, having already opened in early June in the U.K. and Ireland. He’s referring to a scribbled note left to him by one of the band members about something incidental, and his endearing awe at having this personalized piece of the One True Cross in his hands is indicative of his approach to the material overall — sometimes for the charming better but occasionally for the enervating worse. Here Meadows is fan first and director second, and while the film will no doubt satisfy and engage even dormant Stone Roses fans, those coming to it expecting a little more of Meadows’ distinctive authorial imprint, or, really anything beyond a standard and rather conventional rise-and-fall-and-rise-again narrative may be disappointed.
That said, for most of its running time ‘Made of Stone’ is an entertaining account of a seminal band with a massive, proud and vocal fan base. Meadows uses the opportunity afforded by their reforming to look back and deliver a potted history of the band’s past, and thereafter splits his attention between the four members (frontman/singer Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, bassist Mani and drummer Reni) on and offstage, and the hordes of adoring, worshipful fans who pack their reunion tour gigs. At its best the film places the band and its music, which you may like or not, within the context of just how much it has meant to people over the years, which is always fascinating no matter what you think of the tunes. Thankfully, we’re fans ourselves, if not quite diehard enough to ever want to go toe-to-toe on Stone Roses trivia with some of the people featured in the film (a younger fan is quizzed by an older at one point and comes up short), and so we largely found ourselves being swept along by the tale. Familiar as it is, it feels pretty central to anyone of this writer’s vintage who grew up on that side of the pond. Plus, the tunes are peerless, and for the most part convincingly, sometimes thrillingly, presented.
There are however, some major flaws that hold the film off from ascending to the ranks of the truly great music documentary. Firstly, on a technical note, when the band plays live they sound absolutely amazing; even when it’s a less-than-formal jam session great pains have clearly been taken to get the music to sound perfect, and it can really be beautiful to listen to old familiar tracks rendered so crisp and new. Brown’s vocals, especially, have never sounded better. So it’s a real shame that the sound quality elsewhere is poor — the conversations taking place in various hotel rooms and in the backs of cars are indifferently recorded, and with the band members often talking over one another, and ambient noise encroaching on what they’re saying, sometimes we missed whole swathes of it. Some of the jokes certainly passed us by — this we know because of the laughter that arose occasionally from the Czechs in the audience who had the benefit of subtitles.
Secondly, the film loses momentum quite noticeably in the last third, exactly when it should be going through a big crescendo. Having built brilliantly in the middle section to the free gig the Roses played in Warrington prior to touring Europe (the lead up to it and then the gig itself and the mini interviews/pen pictures of the ecstatic fans all contribute to capturing what looks to have been an incredibly electric atmosphere and are probably the film’s high point), the film then follows them on tour, and therefore Meadows is present in Amsterdam when drummer Reni refuses to play an encore, the crowd turn nasty, and Ian Brown calls him “a cunt” onstage.
The sudden destabilization of the band, who until then looked to be getting along very well, affects Meadows very personally, (as he confesses to us, ashen-faced in a self-filmed segment against an unmade bed in Amsterdam the morning after) and he makes a decision that is perhaps understandable from a protective fan, but nearly unforgivable from a director with a keen eye for drama: he basically turns away from the fallout and refrains from examining the causes and effects of this loaded moment, nor even its resolution. Instead we skip directly, and rather jarringly, to what ought to come across as a rousing, triumphant return to Manchester, and the 75000-strong crowd for their first ‘official’ concert in the U.K. since reforming (after the Warrington gig). But it feels as though Meadows’ heart, so full until now, is no longer in it, and to the strains of a long, long instrumental track, he intersperses fairly standard live stage footage with moments from the crowd that are nicely observed, but at a remove we hadn’t really felt before. So where we’ve felt the sheer persuasive force of the love he bears the Roses come through till now, in these closing moments, the film threatens to become wholly anonymous, and it acts to send us into the credits on a subdued note.
But it’s not the majority of the film. For the most part, ‘Made of Stone’ is a faithful, fan’s-eye account of the band’s return that also serves as a good primer in their music and their massive influence for the uninitiated. Furthermore, in its small moments — the glances and grins the guys exchange as they play, the sweaty hugs they share after performances — it tells a strangely heartening story about how maturity can sometimes allow us to reclaim and rediscover the best of our younger days. They may inspire near-religious fervour in some parts, but when it works, ‘Made of Stone’ doesn’t tell the story of The Stone Roses’ resurrection or Second Coming as much as of their second chance: to play together; to reward the faith of their doggedly loyal fanbase; to be adored. [B-/C+]