While the making of The Rolling Stones‘ Exile On Main Street (which many consider to be one of their best, if not greatest album) has been chronicled numerous times both in print and film (most recently in Stephen Kijak‘s documentary “Stones In Exile“), the entire story of those rocky sessions and the background that led to the album has a feature film scope. Certainly, Richard Branson sees things that way as he’s throwing his producing powers behind a narrative movie that will bring the tale of Exile On Main Street to the big screen.
Virgin Produced has snapped up the rights to Robert Greenfield’s “Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones” with plans to turn it into a drama about the band. As The Rolling Stones headed into the making of the album, they were a group in disarray. They had recently parted ways with their longtime (and controversial) manager Allan Klein, and as a result of an ugly lawsuit, lost the rights to many of their songs written before 1971. In addition, the group were facing a hefty tax bill in their native Britain, which they couldn’t afford to pay, so everyone decamped for the south of France to dodge their worries and begin work on a new album.
In essence, the sessions were one long party. Recording in a basement of a large house, a rotating cast of band members and players came in and out with tracks being laid down at all hours of the day and night, while drugs and drink flowed freely (Keith Richards in particular was at the height of his addiction to heroin). Visitors like Gram Parsons, William S. Burroughs and Marshall Chess also dropped by. It was very much the prime example of ’70s hard living and excess, but it also gave Exile On Main Street a rawness and vitality the band never duplicated before or after. But the ragged, undisciplined approach also caused strife within the band, particularly with bassist Bill Wyman who was uncomfortable with the atmosphere around the recordings (he winds up credited on only eight songs). But the collaborators on the record are unparalled elsewhere with famed keyboardist Billy Preston, Dr. John, Bobby Keys and Al Perkins lending their talents to the songs.
For the artwork the band enlisted photographer Robert Frank who created one of their most distinctive designs for the double LP (he also directed the infamous “Cocksucker Blues” documentary about the band’s debaucherous 1972 tour in support of the album). And while Exile On Main Street is heralded now as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records of all time, upon its initial release both sales and reviews were very cool, with the band themselves uncertain about the mix of blues, straight-ahead country and no-nonsense rock on the sprawling album.
But needless to say, with great songs and a true bunch of characters to work with, this is good material for a movie. And Branson should have the full cooperation of the band. Not only has he released their last three albums via Virgin Records, he also reissed Exile On Main Street along with a handful of other albums. It’s early days so no word on a writer or director, but casting should be interesting because who on Earth do you get to play Keith Richards? Suggestions? [Deadline]