The Rolling Stones live performance film provides an exhilarating fresh context that proves stimulating both to the musicians and the viewer and has more to offer than most of its kind, including an unexpected shot of emotion. 'The Rolling Stones Ole! Ole! Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America'. Courtesy of TIFF
To everyone who might have thought they’d seen enough Rolling Stones concert documentaries for one lifetime, the greatest old geezer rock ‘n’ roll band in the world proves otherwise in Ole! Ole! Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America. The occasion of the group’s early 2016 tour of Latin America, culminating in its unprecedented concert in Havana, Cuba, on the heels of President Obama’s trip there, provides an exhilarating fresh context that proves stimulating both to the musicians and the viewer. Bolstered further by great sound and resourceful contextual footage for each stop along the way, this is a live performance film that has more to offer than most of its kind, including an unexpected shot of emotion.
Having worked with the Stones before on the 2013 concert docu Sweet Summer Sun—Hyde Park Live, director Paul Dugdale looks to have had a free hand to shoot whatever he wanted. The result is not only the expected performance coverage (material that he’s expanding into an upcoming separate feature devoted exclusively to the Cuban concert, Havana Moon), but behind-the-scenes hangs with the band members (invariably in excellent moods), their sporadic visits with local musicians, reminiscences of their previous trips to the continent (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards deliciously recall their first, by boat from Lisbon to Rio) and lay-of-the-land footage that provides specific contexts for the different countries they visit.
Music naturally plays the central role here, but the film usefully lays in historical and political details that lend it more heft and poignancy than most films of its type. Against the drama of whether or not the Cuban authorities would, in the end, sanction the concert (Dudgale offers an obviously condensed version here of the anxieties of the Stones’ reps as they contend with obstacles on the ground in Havana), the film offers background about how the Stones, and rock ‘n’ roll in general, were banned in many Latin American countries in the ‘60s and ‘70s due to the conservative military dictatorships that dominated in many places then.
When they arrive in Buenos Aires, we learn that the Stones, as Brits, were not allowed into the country for years because of the Falklands War. One result was the birth of a Stones cult called “Rolingas” that exceeds perhaps all other devotees in their fanaticism. The concert in Uruguay is their first ever there, and we see snippets of their visits to Peru, Colombia and Mexico as well, always supplemented by details that provide a bit of cultural specificity.
Hanging out in Brazil, Jagger and Richards perform a great acoustic version of “Honky Tonk Woman,” with the latter allowing later that, while the two men “can irritate each other,” their relationship is utterly special. Richards comes off throughout as perhaps the happiest man in the world, laughing and kidding around all the time. Jagger is affable, while Ron Wood and even the normally camera-shy drummer Charlie Watts chat a bit about their views of what’s happening.
The final 25 minutes are devoted to the Cuban concert, no doubt quite the biggest event without a Castro as the headliner to ever be staged in the country. When the gates are opened in the afternoon, fans dash into the enormous open space to get close to the stage, and the sort of emotion normally not associated with a hard rock band suddenly rises to the surface as one contemplates not only the magnitude of the occasion but the feelings these citizens must be experiencing in the moment. Just two songs, “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Satisfaction,” are fully played here, leaving plenty of material for the upcoming feature focusing exclusively on the Havana event.
Technically, the film is terrific, with state-of-the-art sound and cameras ever-searching for evocative settings and interesting faces among the multitudes.