I'm a big Rolling Stones fan, especially their late 60's output and I saw Gimme Shelter recently which I thought was incredible, so my expectations for the 1969 documentary/concert film The Stones in the Park were incredibly high. In the end I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but not for the reasons I was expecting.
The Stones in the Park is a documentary made for British television that covers a free concert the Stones put on in the summer of '69 at London's Hyde Park. 250,000 fans gathered to see the band who, at the time, were at the peak of their fame. What made this concert particularly interesting though was the fact that a mere 2 days previously their guitarist Brian Jones had died. He had left/been sacked from the band a month previously and the gig was originally intended as a showcase for his replacement Mick Taylor, but due to the tragedy it became dedicated to him.
This fact is what particularly drew me to the film, as the major factor of Gimme Shelter's success is the fact that there is more to it than just showing the band at their peak. Strangely though The Stones in the Park doesn't really dwell on Jones' death. In fact there is no mention of him until pretty much half way through and, other than Jagger reading out a Shelley poem, little is made of the tragedy during the concert either. Of course, knowing about the issue whilst watching the film gives it a dark undercurrent, but not nearly as much in Shelter.
Away from the Jones factor it's always a pleasure to listen to the band perform during the fertile period that brought such landmark albums as 'Beggars Banquet' and 'Let it Bleed', with 'Sticky Fingers' and 'Exile on Main Street' just around the corner. It must be said though that the music is another aspect that disappointed a little too. Although the great songs are here, it's not their greatest of performances. It's all a little sloppy, although under the circumstances that's pretty understandable I guess. I still loved to hear great tracks like 'Love in Vain' and 'Jumping Jack Flash' though and Mick Jagger gets to strut his stuff which is good to see.
I don't want you to think I didn't like the film though. Despite it not quite delivering in the aspects I most anticipated, it worked much better than expected in others. What I got most from the film was a wonderful sense of time and place. The cameras focus on the crowd as much as the band and it's fascinating to see the wide range of fans the Stones had coming together in London when it was still one of the coolest places to be with regards to its music scene. At the tail end of the 60's you had the hippies, the mods and the rockers and you had members of all groups loving the Stones, so it's fantastic to see them gel in such a situation. The cameras really get in amongst them and venture out around the park to soak in the atmosphere away from the concert too. As a nostalgia piece on the era it's brilliant.
All in all it lacks the edge of Gimme Shelter and doesn't show the Stones at their finest form, but it remains an enjoyable watch and a great period piece packed with incredible songs (if not the best we've heard them). Definitely worth a watch for fans of the band and those with an interest in the era.
The Stones in the Park is released on Blu-Ray on 18th June by Network Releasing. The picture quality is solid, retaining the grain of the source material but losing any obvious print flaws. Colours are subtly strong too. The soundtrack is available in original mono as well as a newly remastered 5.1 mix which sounds fantastic.
To make up for the film's short length the Blu-Ray throws in a bunch of features. You get three previously unseen songs, one of which is given the same 5.1 remaster as the film itself. There's a World in Action interview with Jagger about his arrest for drug possession as well as a press conference after his release from prison. Finally, there is news footage from the Stones' early fame in 1964. These extra video pieces are a nice inclusion but not all that linked in to the period of the band's history that the film focuses on, so aren't all that relevant. I personally would have loved to have heard more from the band about Brian Jones' death.