Just about everyone has heard of Rolling Stone magazine. For me it was circa 1995 when I bought my first Rolling Stone magazine that had the band Green Day on the cover. While I never had a subscription, I still remember hitting up the Barnes and Noble and getting the new magazines when I could. It was the magazine I went to to read up on my favorite bands and random pop culture influences. The magazine is now celebrating 50 years of journalism on music, politics, and just about everything else in between. In the 4 ½ hour documentary, it is a combination of interviews and archival footage that tells the story from when the magazine was birthed in San Francisco to becoming one of the most popular publications of our time.
Though the Blu-ray says that it is told in two parts, the reality is that the two-disc set is broken up into six episodes that run just over 40 minutes each. Jeff Daniels handles the duties as the narrator, who starts off by explaining to us to where the magazine’s name came from as well as introducing us to the magazine’s creator and editor, Jann Wenner. The first episode really helps set the tone by telling the story of how the magazine and its staff came together as well as revealing how some of the magazine’s breakout articles first came together. From a story about Ike and Tina Turner before they were household names to John Lennon and Yoko Ono and their Bed In for Peace. It’s kind of amazing seeing how the magazine wasn’t so popular yet but was a part of something as historic on pop culture. Personally I really enjoyed getting to see Annie Leibovitz discuss some of her first shoots, and it’s easy to understand why she has become a legend in the photography world since.
Episode 2 manages to continue its momentum by bringing in Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous & Say Anything) and having him discuss how he got started as a contributor for Rolling Stone, since he was only a teenager when he was first being published. Not many people realize how autobiographical Almost Famous was for Cameron Crowe, and as we get to listen to his stories and the interviews he got to do, I started to realize his story is even more incredible than I first imagined. They only touch on his interview with The Eagles and getting to go on tour with Jethro Tull. In this episode we also get to hear some of the stories about the infamous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and his epic reporting on the 1972 Nixon campaign trail.
In Episode 3 things kind of jump ahead when introducing journalist Chuck Young, who was an advocate for reporting on the rising punk scene, a scene Jann Wenner has no problem admitting he wasn’t a fan of. Things get heavy in this episode as it delves into the relationship between Rolling Stone and John Lennon which leads into John Lennon’s death and the famous photo Leibovitz shot of the couple just hours before he was shot. The pacing of this episode is a bit off, which I can understand, because no one could have predicted Lennon would be murdered, but it’s from this moment on in the documentary things just seem thrown together.
Episode 4 follows the magazine as they movie across country to New York and the magazine seems to develop a sense of an identity crisis. Thankfully this included another story about Hunter S. Thompson, his story about the Roxanne Pulitzer divorce that he considered the dark side of the American dream. Though I’m a fan of Thompson’s work, I was relatively unfamiliar with this article, and it’s a heck of a fun ride and was a nice reminder that there can simply never be another journalist quite like Hunter S. Thompson.
Episode 5 brings us into the 90’s, and we get a fun story about Ice-T, but then years of music are skipped over in favor of discussing Rolling Stone’s involvement with Bill Clinton. It’s a bit of a jarring transition; after all, this is overlooking the grunge era and numerous musicians that rose up in this time. But also it doesn’t discuss what happened to some of the founding journalists and photographers who went on to become successful on their own. I get it ;4.5 hours isn’t a lot of time to cover a 50 year time span, but the time that is spent with Ice-T’s story just doesn’t work for me, especially when they end the episode talking about boy bands and Britney Spears.
What gets even more frustrating is how politically heavy Episode 5 is, as well as 6. Granted, when discussing big moments in the magazine’s history, it’s a good thing they do bring up the article “A Rape on Campus”, the article that resulted in the magazine getting sued and in hot water. This also covers the article from Michael Hastings about the Afghanistan that caused a stir in the White House, followed by his death not long after. While I understand the importance of these stories, I still can’t look past all the stories that seem to be overlooked With over five decades covered nothing is mentioned about Jim Morrison, nothing about some of their infamous interviews with Roman Polanski, or articles on Charles Manson. In many ways, when it all comes to an end, you can’t help but feel as though so much more of the story is missing.
On the cover it says, “50 years of defining culture”, but I still feel this is a bit more of a fluff piece than intended. Where is the juice about the magazine being put up for sale? Where is the story about those involved with the magazine? For instance, we know Jann Wenner is responsible for it all, but we really get to know nothing about the man behind the magazine or much about his family’s involvement with the magazine. Though it’s comprehensive in some respects, I feel there is so much to the story that we are missing and makes this documentary feel neutered and as if it never had a chance to reach its full potential, because I’m certain there is plenty more that could have been told, and the result could have been great.
Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge is presented in the aspect ratio 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 30 mbps. Considering this is a documentary that is made up from concert footage over the years, with a variety of film formats, still photos and digital video the quality can be a bit all over the place. The older some of the video is, the more grain we get, because it was shot on film, obviously, and as things get more current, the image gets sharper, and the colors manage to pop more. With a mix of color and B&W footage, we really do get a bit of everything.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is relatively standard for what you’d expect from a documentary that is filled with numerous interviews. There are times with some of the archival footage where the sound isn’t as clean due to either the quality of microphone or the environment an interview was done in, but for the most part it gets the job done.
Here we have a collection of extended interviews that ended up on the cutting room floor. There isn’t a “Play All” button, so you have to go through them one at a time. Personally my favorite was with Victor Juhasz, one of the artists for the magazine, discussing the struggles of drawing certain political figures.
Cameron Crowe (3:44)
Gus Wenner (1:52)
Jane Wenner (1:35)
Janet Reitman (3:23)
Matt Taibbi (3:11)
Victor Juhasz (3:19)
While I really enjoyed a good portion of this, I feel we missed out on so much more of the story behind Rolling Stone magazine. Its 4.5 hours, so it is a lot of information to ingest, but it being broken into six episodes does make it an easier task to attempt watching. For music and pop-culture fans this will be an entertaining ride, but don’t be surprised if you catch yourself wondering why they didn’t cover certain topics or artists.