There have been 11 Rolling Stones concert DVDs since 2007. Which is obviously totally nuts. The Rolling Stones: on the one hand, a band of buddies who just love playing rock 'n' roll; on the other, they're an industry seemingly bigger than the music industry itself—they play the biggest shows in the world, and have infinite product to churn. As a filmmaker of one of those DVDs, how do you make something fresh?
Paul Dugdale and Sam Bridger, the director and producer of the triple-barreled The Rolling Stones – Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America, have pulled it off with this intoxicating film. Sam has made a clutch of BBC music docs on covering everything from hip-hop to Krautrock to psych rock, while Paul's directed award winning live concerts for Adele, Coldplay, and One Direction, but they're both massive Stones fans, and you can tell. Part cultural document, part road trip, part concert film, it follows the band as they undertake a tour of 10 Latin American cities, culminating in a free Havana gig for a million fans. A MILLION. Along the way The Stones meet the locals, singing and dancing with scissor dancers in Peru and drummers in Uruguay, while Paul and Sam meet fans, many of whom are besides themselves with anticipation, having been starved of rock music for decades under military dictatorships. Most fervent are Argentina's Rolingas, a country-wide tribe of devotees who worship The Stones. As you might imagine, it gets emotional.
And then there's the band. On stage Mick says he thinks the locals ate his daughter's guinea pig. Charlie tells us that showbiz is "bullshit." Keith wanders about pre-gig with a shamanic stick, going outside to do "a few movements" to prevent rain. The Havana show itself is almost derailed twice—once by a visit by Obama, which forces the band to reschedule, and then by the Pope, who requests the band not perform on Good Friday ("He's not my manager," says Keith). It's a blast. We met Paul and Sam to get the goss.
Noisey: Paul this is your fourth Stones film.
Paul Dugdale: Yeah. The first was a concert film in Hyde Park. There was a story because they'd played that big free show there in 1969. So we thought, 'Yeah we'll do that,' and slightly arrogantly, I pretty much cold-called them. Phoned up the management and said, 'We know you're doing this show.' And they were really welcoming. I was really excited because I thought it would be their swansong, and I was doing their final concert. But as has become cliché with them it's never the last show.
Did they say it would be the end?
Paul: No they never do. But it always feels like it might be the last tour. I think people are just waiting for that to happen.
Because they're old? It doesn't look like they have any intention of stopping.
Paul: No. People have been asking them in interviews since the 1980s, 'Are you thinking about calling it a day?' Anyway I did that show, and another one last year in Los Angeles, a tiny show where they played the whole of the Sticky Fingers album. The film was gonna be released as part of the record re-release, but it didn't ever come out. And we did this film and the one that's just the Cuba concert.
How well have you got to know the band?
Paul: It's a professional relationship, but they're very personable and welcoming when we're there. There's no sending of Christmas cards. But when we're doing the films it becomes quite a close relationship, particularly with Mick, because Mick is very conscious of how the film should be, and has a great deal of experience with that.
You're up against legendary films like Gimme Shelter and Cocksucker Blues and Scorsese's Shine A Light. Were you intimidated by that back catalogue?
Sam Bridger: We were inspired by it. We wanted to make a movie that had a depth and worth to it. It's not a historical documentary, but we wanted to look at those moments where the Stones and history intersected in South America.
What did you make of South America?
Paul: It was a real adventure. We shot a lot of the film with a single camera, long takes, handheld, no cuts. Hunting for stuff. The intention was that you would explore with us, in the first-person. We weren't really sure what was around the corner.
What were the most amazing things you saw?
Paul: Peru was a pretty insane place.
Sam: Yeah I'd never been anywhere like it, I felt like I was in Star Wars.
Paul: By the time we'd got to Peru we'd been to Chile, Argentina, and São Paulo, and there it could still be a big Spanish city, it never felt too far from home. But Peru was a complete culture shock. And it was the most reckless bit. We were halfway in so we were the most tired, it was intense, just from pure fatigue.
Sam: And that's where the film gets a bit odd. You're suddenly with these scissor dancers and you're traveling the streets of Lima during "Midnight Rambler," looking at working girls and creatures of the night. And we were fucked. I'd eaten some ceviche that sent me a bit sideways. It was all slightly disorientating.
How was it like Star Wars?
Sam: The landscape just blew my mind. It's the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo. It was dusty and hot and barren. It was like being there where Jabba the Hutt is. Is that his name? This is not gonna come across well, is it. It just felt otherworldly.
Paul: There are these enormous dusty mountains and there were 30 massive pylons all in a row. That weird meeting of utter desolation and post-apocalyptic desert city. These enormous goliath mechanical spires growing out the top of a complete dustbowl. That's when we said to each other, 'It's like being in Star Wars.' Probably inappropriately.
When did you first hear about the Rolingas?
Paul: When we first started working on the film we had a phone conversation with each of the band and we asked them what stories they had about Latin America from over the years. And Mick told us about the Rolingas and said we should pursue them. For the whole band Argentina had been a striking place. When they first went there in the 90s, it's funny, they described it as Beatlemania. For the Rolling Stones to describe it like that… apparently it was bonkers. So the Rolingas were a first port of call. We wanted to grasp that audience thing early on and show the hysteria. They're so passionate in Latin America.
Sam: And the age, particularly in Buenos Aires, there were 16-year-old kids at that concert. That gig was like The Prodigy in the 90s. I was totally blown away by how mental people went for the Stones there. They're just so much more of a band for these people. To have an entire youth culture based around a single band… I can't think of anything else like it.
There's that amazing bit in Brazil where Mick and Keith do that intimate acoustic version of "Honky Tonk Women." How did that happen?
Sam: We read that "Honky Tonk Women" had been written just outside of São Paulo, so we wanted to tell that story and relive that moment in some way. It was a lovely window into Keith and Mick's relationship when they were barely out of their teens just going on a bit of a lads' holiday around South America. And they were really up for it, you can see how the conversation descends into quite puerile territory by the end. It kind of thaws them a little bit I think. And it was just one take. We filmed it and then went, 'Bloody hell, that was good.'
Paul: We were hoping it would get their nostalgic juices flowing, and that's kind of what came out.
Sam: And you watched it back about four times in the hotel. I was asleep.
Paul: Yeah we raided the minibar. We had a small crew, six of us, and that was a minibar drinking session.
What was it like making the film and not knowing if the Cuba gig was even going to happen?
Paul: It was a nerve-wracking time, particularly when the Obama thing happened. Sam and I wanted to explore this sense of jeopardy, will it or won't it happen, but when the Obama thing was announced out of nowhere, we were like, 'Oh fuck.' We wanted jeopardy, but not this much jeopardy. It was a bit too serious; it made us sweat.
What's it like when suddenly you're faced with POTUS potentially screwing up your film?
Paul: You just feel ridiculous.
Sam: And then with the Pope it just got even more ridiculous. The Stones, the Pope, and the President of the United States became this holy trinity in the film.
Paul: We got over the Obama hurdle, and Sam and I were in this weird rooftop restaurant in Mexico City and I got a call from the manager of the Stones and she was going, 'Yeah we've had a call pretty much direct from the Vatican saying we have to pull the show.' I was eating a banana, looking at Sam like, 'Oh my God.'
Was there anything you wanted to do that the band said no to?
Sam: I think we got kicked back a few times when we wanted to go out at night with them. 'Hey can we hang out with you at night?'
And they just said: 'No.'
Sam: Yeah basically.
Paul: They just wouldn't call. Like a cruel girlfriend you're trying to date. Also we did an interview with Mick in London and he was telling us it had been years since he'd been out so much and partied and done so much, and it was like, 'Cool, thanks for the invite.' But we didn't expect to be with them.
Sam: And he was an hour late for the interview because he'd gone to the park. He turned up and said he'd had a really nice walk around the park. That was why he was an hour late. I loved it, so unapologetic. 'Yeah, just went for a walk in the park, haven't been there for years.' Brilliant.
Let's talk about Keith's rain stick. Does he really do this at gigs? It plays totally into the mythology of what people want from him. It's very Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Voodoo Keith.
Paul: Yeah. He really does do that, every single show.
Sam: It's not an act, it's just what he does. It's beautiful and mad at the same time. In somebody else's hands it would be really pre-meditated, but he just does it.
Is he generally the real deal? How much of it is self-mythologizing?
Sam: I've never seen a mask drop. And I think he's really into it for the music, I don't think he's in it for fame, or ever has been. He just absolutely loves playing guitar with his mates. I don't detect any façade there at all.
Paul: All of them kind of adhere to their caricature-ness. It's quite a relief. They're all exactly as you might expect. They've earnt those caricatures well over the years.
Sam: I just don't think they care really, they just are who they are now. It's not like they're 25 and trying to project an image. And how cool is that?
Did you manage to find out how Keith is still alive? Despite everything he's ingested over the decades he's sharp as hell.
Paul: I think Keith's secret is consistency. He's consistently done what he does. He doesn't deviate from his regime.
Basically you're saying he's immunized himself.
Sam: I don't know, he was drinking his vodka and orange quite a lot, that's sort of all he drinks.
Paul: When we did the helicopter shoot, we got his rider and it was a bottle of vodka and some tall Collins glasses and some orange juice. He just sort of sups away at that. He's just equalized, hasn't he. Maintained.
What's Mick's rider?
Paul: I don't know. You may have noticed in the film though that Keith's dressing room is completely black. And Mick's is completely white. Read into that what you will.
OK let's do some word association. We'll start with Mick.
Sam: Driven. I was just really impressed seeing him preparing for gigs, he really is a complete ball of energy and a driving force, I was really inspired by him.
[Paul laughs.] Sam: Paul you go.
Paul: I'm trying to think… what springs to mind? Um… fuck.
Sam: This isn't how word association is supposed to work.
Paul: Yeah. I'm trying to think of a word that… I can't even think of the vocabulary.
Sam: This is the worst word association ever. Paul, reboot.
Paul: I'm gonna say mythical. I've never ever met anybody like that. There are parts of each of the rest of them that I can relate to, other people I know or have met. Keith is a complete mythical entity, a one-off. His attitude to life, he's just incredible.
Paul: Fashionable. He's an understated snappy dresser.
Sam: He's a bit of a spiv isn't he. The coolest thing that's ever happened to me was when I sat down to do an audio interview with Charlie and I crossed my legs and he said 'Nice socks.' And my life was made.
What socks were they?
Sam: They were pink. And he had these incredible Hugh Hefner-esque loafers on. He always has good socks and shoes.
Sam: I'd say kind. He's always the first person to say hello. 'Alright Sam!' Really goes out of his way to include you and make you feel welcome.
Paul you know you sound quite like Mick.
Paul: Do I?! Actually you're not the first person to say that, now that you mention it. Cheryl, who works with The Stones and helped us get some access, she said to me once that she was approaching their office in a stadium and could hear this voice and she thought, 'Oh my God, what's Mick doing in the office?! Has something gone wrong?' But it was me.
Maybe he's just rubbed off on you over the years.
Sam: Would you like to rephrase that question?
Yeah that's the gossip I was looking for!
Paul: End with a dick joke!
Filmmakers Sam Bridger and Paul Dugdale.
Alex Godfrey is a writer living in London. Follow him on Twitter.
Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America is in theaters December 12.