A chat with veteran rockers about their film; Routine concert movie -- on the very nonroutine Stones
New York — The Rolling Stones aren't exactly noted for hobnobbing with the press. So I replied with a quick ''yes'' when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards let it be known they would attend a reception in their honor at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
The occasion was a celebration of their concert movie Let's Spend the Night Together, which opens nationally tomorrow. Not only did Mick and Keith ''make the scene,'' but they brought Ron Wood and Charlie Watts along, leaving Bill Wyman as the only no-show. Everyone seemed in fine spirits - Jagger acting a bit princely in his elegantly striped tie and turned-up collar, but Richards and Wood practically scrambling over each other to answer questions or exchange chitchat. Meanwhile, the elusive Watts huddled over a plate of hors d'oeuvres at a separate table, looking like he'd wandered in from some other band. Which is how he looks in performance, too, come to think of it.
For me, the reception was a chance to find out something I've always wondered: Do rock stars actually watch the concert films they make? I asked Jagger about ''Let's Spend the Night Together,'' and he said he's not only seen it, he likes it. Is it fun watching your face 20 feet tall on a giant screen, I continued? ''Like any torture, it gets painless after a while,'' he answered, his elastic face twisting into something between a smirk and a grimace.
And can you learn useful things about your act by seeing it from the outside, for a change? ''Sure,'' said Jagger, making a snip-snip motion with his fingers. ''You learn what to cut out.''
Richards and Wood had different responses. In fact, both admitted they hadn't seen their own movie, and said that was fine with them. ''Do you know how much we've worked with that material?'' asked Richards, leaning over the back of a chair with a conspiratorial look. ''Between the American tour, the European tour , the rehearsals, the album - we've worked two years on those 15 songs. Enough is enough. I don't want to hear them any more!''
But wouldn't it be useful, I kept on, to see yourself as others see you for a couple of hours? ''Yes,'' conceded Wood. ''Usually the only one who sees the show is Mick, when he goes off the stage as part of the act. He comes back and tells us what we looked like. It's usually 'monkeys' or something like that.''
While I pursued these deep aesthetic questions, my 11-year-olds collected autographs with a single-minded determination that even impressed a couple of the Stones, surely no strangers to the signature-hunter's wily ways. The youngsters also posed an interesting question of their own: Do you still have to practice on your instruments, or are you too good for that by now? Richards and Wood both admitted to having a practice session now and then - not composing or rehearsing with the group, but just sitting down with the guitar and learning to play it better. Wood added, though, that he doesn't practice Stones material much that way, because he ''can't get the rhythms unless the group is there.''
Who do the Stones admire on the current scene? ''There are a few I like,'' said Richards, who couldn't seem to name many except the Pretenders and some reggae groups. He hemmed and hawed for a few moments, then gave up and proclaimed that his ''realm favorites'' are ''the old people: the Coasters, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard. . . . That's who I like!'' he grinned, showing a love for the golden age of rock 'n' roll - the fabulous '50s - that many Stones fans will heartily share.
As for ''Let's Spend the Night Together'' itself, it's fun without bringing anything new to the concert-film format. The Stones and their sidemen spend about 90 minutes strumming and strutting their way from ''Under My Thumb'' to ''Satisfaction,'' with detours into such memorable ditties as ''You Can't Always Get What You Want'' and ''Brown Sugar.'' The best parts are the long close-ups of Jagger's face - looking downright sculptural in the throes of performance - as caught by expert cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (of ''Black Stallion'' fame) and partner Gerald Feil. Occasional rough language and lyrics account for the PG rating, but the music tends to drown out such lapses.
The director was Hal Ashby, maker of such fine films as ''Coming Home'' and ''Harold and Maude.'' Though his personality rarely pokes through here, his wit does manage to shine now and then, as when the classic ''Time Is on My Side'' is accompanied by photos of the Stones at various stages of their lives and careers. It's a bright moment in an otherwise routine picture that thrives almost entirely on the energy of its subjects. A 'soap' plot that doesn't wash
Independence Day wants to capitalize on the popularity of old-fashioned movies recently signaled by the huge success of ''An Officer and a Gentleman.''
Lightning probably won't strike twice, though. ''An Officer and a Gentleman, '' also featuring David Keith, harkened back to classic Hollywood themes and time-tested characters. By contrast, the dreary ''Independence Day'' turns to afternoon soap operas for inspiration. The heroine is torn between her boyfriend and the lure of the big city. The hero can't decide whether to stick with her or his hometown. Subplots revolve around those sad ''soap'' standbys - illness and bad marriages. There's happiness in the story, too, but it seems as artificial as most of the misery that surrounds it.
Kathleen Quinlan does a good job, under the circumstances, of bringing the main character to life. Dianne Wiest also brings conviction to her role as a battered wife in the film's most harrowing scenes. But there's not much else to praise in this hackneyed fiction, which trivializes some important social and moral issues by treating them in such flatly melodramatic terms. The rating is R , reflecting some rough language and family violence. Robert Mandel directed the Alice Hoffman screenplay. Film portrait of a film star
More hair-raising yet is Frances, which has gotten a lot of attention because of its real-life heroine, the late movie star Frances Farmer, and the vigorous performance of Jessica Lange in the title role. The story follows Miss Farmer from her rebellious teen years through her success in Hollywood, portraying her as a dedicated artist who felt the Broadway stage was the only real medium for serious acting. Under pressure from her mother, she keeps plugging at the Hollywood game she despises, finally succumbing to a series of apparent mental breakdowns. The finale is more bitter than sweet.
As impressive as Lange's performance is, after some rocky moments near the beginning, it is undermined by the film's lumpy screenplay and sour visual style. Despite its biographical plot and the presence of such characters as Clifford Odets and Harold Clurman, it's hard to take seriously a picture that so clearly dotes on its most lurid side trips - and takes such evident glee in depicting its professional characters (mostly psychiatrists) as fools at best and outright thugs at worst. Sam Shepard, the playwright, is quietly effective as the heroine's friend and comforter, and director Graeme Clifford effectively conjures a sense of bourgeois suffocation in some of the hometown episodes. The rating is R, reflecting nudity and harsh language in addition to frequent emotional violence.