Lead Guitars and Movie Stars: The Cinema of The Rolling Stones

7. Casino (1995)

‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ from Sticky Fingers (1971)

There was an initial perception, when Casino was first released, that it was a bloated, overindulgent version of Goodfellas, even down to the voice-over and the casting of Joe Pesci as a violent psychopath.

Twenty years of reflection have been kind to Scorsese’s mob-epic: unshackled from Goodfellas and viewed on its own terms, Casino is a mature, stately and gripping study of power. The running time (178 mins) that once felt like the result of an unwillingness to cut anything, now feels like just the right sized canvas on which to tell such a powerful and intricate tale. It has room to breathe.

Indicative of this broad scope is the use of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking in its entirety to score a montage detailing Nicky’s (Pesci) plan to set up his own criminal endeavours, having been barred from entering any of the Las Vegas casinos.

One of the longest Stones songs in their canon (over seven minutes), it features the perfect mixture of threat, mischief and sass to score this mini-movie that takes in the assembly of a new mob, burglaries and shows just why cops should always be wary of eating a sandwich prepared by the cousin of a Mob enforcer. It was also a statement from Scorsese: relax, sit back. I’m taking my time with this one.


8. Rushmore (1998)

‘I Am Waiting’ from Aftermath (1965)

Wes Anderson’s penchant for using Rolling Stones music in his scores is second only to Scorsese himself. Unlike Scorsese, however, who is happy to purloin tracks from all over their career, Anderson is strictly an ABKO man, limiting his choices to the days before Rolling Stones Records was set up in 1971, and often using rarer tracks like 2000 Man (Bottle Rocket) and She Smiled Sweetly (The Royal Tenenbaums). Sixties Stones tracks are now one stitch in the fabric of everything that is wonderful about Wes Anderson’s films.

The gentle, plaintive I Am Waiting scores the entire ‘November’ segment of Anderson’s sophomore film and finds the eccentric but psychotically über-confident schoolboy Max Fisher at his lowest ebb. Friendless, thwarted in love and kicked out of his beloved Rushmore Academy, Max allows himself to drown in the mundane drudgery of unexceptional reality.

The music sounds like a plea from his distanced followers, beckoning him out of his torpor but at this point, Max has wrapped himself in a cocoon ‘like a withered stone,’ away from the world and its hostilities, waiting to come out of somewhere.


9. The Man From Elysian Fields (2002)

MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS, Anjelica Huston, Mick Jagger, 2001

Jagger’s acting roles since Performance were few and far between. The results were rarely majestic: his role as a transvestite club owner in Nazi-era Berlin was one of the few highlights in Bent (1997) and Freejack (1991) can lay claim to be one of the silliest sci-fi films ever made.

In fact, the list of films that Jagger nearly made is far more interesting: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune movie for one, and it was only a scheduling conflict that cost him a role in Werner Herzog’s demented masterpiece Fitzcarraldo (probably to Jagger’s immense relief).

A pity then that his finest moment of straight acting was in this almost completely forgotten drama, as the CEO of a male escort agency, who tempts failing writer Andy Garcia (in shouty-shouty mode) into his web. Jagger is rather wonderful here as the terribly dapper Luther, and looks uncannily like current-vintage Rupert Everett, right down to his purring delivery.

Of course, there is an element of stunt casting here – (who better to play The Devil in a Faustian story than he who was once pleased to meet you and hoped you’d guess his name? Whoo-whoo?) Nonetheless, his scenes with Anjelica Huston, the one woman he wants but can’t have, are sweet, vulnerable, touching and show that there really is a fine actor in there somewhere.


10. The Departed (2006)

‘Gimme Shelter’ from Let It Bleed (1969)

The first track from their seminal Let it Bleed album is one of The Rolling Stones’ most powerful songs. Humming with the threat of violence and death, the first creeping notes like rust peeling from the hinges of an opening coffin and the spectral wailing of Merry Clayton, all kicked into submission by Richards’s chord chopping riffs and the most vicious bassline Bill Wyman ever played.

Over it all, Jagger calls time on the sixties hippie dream, channelling Charles Manson as he rides out the decade on a mad bull, watching the streets on fire like a red coal carpet.

Gimme Shelter has become synonymous with Scorsese’s more violent oeuvre. It had made significant appearances in Goodfellas, Casino and in this, the film that finally snagged him the Best Director Oscar. Like a leitmotif, tying these three films together as an unofficial trilogy, Gimme Shelter sums up the brutal reality behind them all: rape, murder, it’s just a shot away.

The Departed is frontloaded by Gimme Shelter, setting its stall out in its opening seconds, as Jack Nicholson’s Boston crime boss lectures a young, soon-to-become Matt Damon, arriving at a conclusion that would have fitted Jagger’s apocalyptic vision comfortably: ‘You could become cops or criminals, but what I’m saying is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?’


11. Adventureland (2011)

‘Tops’ from Tattoo You (1981)

It’s tempting for film-makers when selecting Stones music for their soundtracks, to go with the bigger hits from their golden period. However, more recent Rolling Stones songs have started to emerge, giving lie to the suggestion that they never did anything worthwhile after Some Girls in 1977.

Perhaps the most effective use of a modern Stones track was Thru and Thru from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge, which David Chase used to sign off Season 2 of The Sopranos. Cameron Crowe too used one of their greatest album tracks – Heaven from 1981’s Tattoo You – on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack.

That same album contained this sweet and sour ballad, which Superbad director Greg Mottola cleverly used in his follow up, Adventureland. James (Jesse Eisenberg) has taken a crappy job at an amusement park in the 1980s, where he dreams of bigger and better things; mostly involving co-worker, Em (Kristen Stewart).

At a works party, Tops plays out like both Devil and Angel whispering into each ear. ‘I’ll take you a million miles from all of this, put you on a pedestal.’ Is this what he wants to say to Em, or what he wants to hear himself? ‘Have you ever heard those opening lines / You should leave these small town ways behind…’


12. Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2012)

Keith Richards

Johnny Depp’s superstar-making debut performance in the Pirates franchise was notable for the startling way that he absorbed both the animated skunk Pepe le Pew and the non-animated Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and emerged with the character of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Depp said, ‘I was reading about the eighteenth century pirates and thought that they were kind of like rock stars, so when I thought, “Who is the greatest rock n roll star of our time…”’ And so Keith Richards was introduced by proxy to a new generation of kids who had probably never heard of him until then.

Richards made his acting debut – not counting a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in 1969’s Man on Horseback with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg – in the third Pirates movie, At World’s End, as Jack Sparrow’s dad, Captain Teague. Like most things in the Pirates franchise, one suspects that the reason he and his son have different names is just writerly incompetence with no hidden symbolism whatsoever.

Richards was given a fuller role in the fourth movie, On Stranger Tides which was no less bewildering. He did, however, get the film’s only genuinely amusing line. Pointing to his own wrinkled, deep-grooved features: the embodiment of fifty years’ worth of unbridled rock n’ roll hedonism, he asks, ‘Does this face look like it’s ever been to the fountain of youth?’

Author Bio: Cai is a food and film writer, with articles published in The Chap, Fire & Knives, Gin & It and Cinema Retro. He is a features writer for HeyUGuys.co.uk and has yet to get over the Jaws obsession which consumed him as a callow youth.