Published Oct 23, 2013The disparity between the Stone Roses' popularity in England vs. North America is staggering. In the UK, the group — considered by many to literally be the best band to come along since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — laid the groundwork for Brit Pop's ascendance with their sound, style and swagger. Here in North America, the Manchester quartet is more of a cult act, admired by music nerds even if we don't entirely understand their God-like status in their homeland.
Needless to say, their recent reunion caused a stir at home, while the announcement of their headlining slot at this year's Coachella was met with a lot of head scratching. Filmmaker Shane Meadows was tapped to capture the furor of the former for this documentary, which tries to tell their complicated story while also capturing the glory of their return.
His access is at times extraordinary, as he films intimate band rehearsals of classics like "Waterfall" and "I Wanna Be Adored." He also follows the band on tour, starting with their return at a secret gig in Warrington, across Europe, and finally a hometown gig at Manchester's Heaton Park. Footage from these performances is interspersed with inessential backstage shots and some cobbled together archival footage that explains the band's troubled history. But without any serious, sit down contemporary interviews with group members — who tend to say little of note in interviews anyway — Made of Stone is nothing more than a snapshot of this legendary band in middle-age.
Meadows is a talented filmmaker and no stranger to music — his movie This is England captured the confusing transformation of England's skinhead movement from inheritors of the Mod throne to racist thugs — yet here he falls victim to his own fandom: he believes in the band's legend, so he makes no effort to challenge or explain it to anyone on the outside. In the DVD extras he even admits he was nervous and "didn't want to go digging," choosing to only "focus on the music." Even this not-so-lofty task is challenged after a disastrous gig in Amsterdam in which drummer Reni bails before the encore. In a P.O.V. confessional shot the next morning, Meadows explains that the mood isn't good and the band have essentially booted him, or more specifically his cameras, from their entourage.
The film ends with footage from the band's Heaton Park gig, performing a particularly epic version of "Fools Gold." There's no sense of what lies ahead for the band (more gigs, recording, another breakup?), but it's fair to say that this current incarnation of the Stone Roses proved themselves to be more than the flash in the pan their one classic album might suggest (for argument's sake, we'll ignore the much maligned Second Coming) at least as a live entity. Ultimately, Made of Stone succeeds as a performance film rather than a documentary, buoyed by the music. In that sense Meadows achieves what he set out to do. However, for a band as legendary, misunderstood and elusive as the Stone Roses, fans deserve better. (MVD)