I wasn't sure what to expect when I started watching Let's Spend the Night Together, the concert documentary film shot during the Rolling Stones' 1981 tour in support of "Tattoo You." Under Hal Ashby's direction combined with the Stones' ability to grab a polished and accomplished director for their projects, employing Jean-Luc Godard for Sympathy for the Devil and the Maysles brothers for the acclaimed Gimme Shelter, Ashby (himself a fan), would perhaps give the Stones a more than friendly cinematic treatment.
And as the Stones tear through the first portion of the concert (filmed in Arizona's Sun Devil Stadium), it feels like a lost performance of sorts. The Stones had presumably played in larger venues before, but it feels like Mick Jagger's stage persona is feeding into a large cloud of apathy. The 87 minute set is split over Sun Devil Stadium and East Rutherford, New Jersey, and includes the following songs
"Under My Thumb"
"Let's Spend the Night Together"
"Just My Imagination"
"Twenty Flight Rock"
"Let Me Go"
"Time is on My Side"
"Beast of Burden"
"Waiting on A Friend"
"Going to a Go-Go"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"She's So Cold"
"All Down the Line"
"Start Me Up"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
Now in terms of albums, "Tattoo You" turned out to be a pretty good Stones album and its blues and rockabilly mix to go with its rock sound makes for some good foot tapping goodness. And with the Stones playing the Greatest Hits from previous albums there is plenty of stuff to both delight and amuse. But the first half of the time in outdoors is just so...underwhelming.
But for as bland as the outdoor material is, when the group switches over to the indoor part of the set after "Waiting on a Friend" is when the crowd gets a little more tangential to Jagger and Keith Richards and when he recognizes it and gives it back. Compared to the rest of this (and subsequent) stadium tour, Jagger employs every inch from the sprawling set that the band used to entertain the masses, but the crowd borders on apathetic.
And what of Ashby? The guy was a creative force in the '70s, however he gave way to personal demons, overdosing during the tour and succumbing to illness several years later. But any direction he may have employed feels minimal, with robotic cameras at stage front and at various points through the stadium/arena to the point where the viewer feels as detached as the first half of the concert. When it transitions indoors, there are very brief in-song montages of Jagger, Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts as they share on-stage expressions or private moments of joy in a look or a move that, on a random night in a random town, brings them and them alone some joy. But Ashby had done Harold and Maude and Coming Home to name a couple, and in Let's Spend the Night Together, he seems to do things by the numbers and without a lot of thinking. Maybe the overdose had something to do with it.
It's a shame, because the film could have been so much more than it turned out to be. The Stones wouldn't tour again until the end of the '80s and have been doing so pretty much since that point. Jagger and Richards had been at each other for a while, and despite his recent conquering of drugs Richards was still caustic to Jagger, leading to the pair not talking for several years after this tour. It's a shame because like the performers in Let's Spend the Night Together, I just wanted this show to end too.
Let's Spend the Night Together is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and at least the upside of having so many auteurs involved in their films is that the performance footage looks nice. Caleb Deschanel (who previously worked with Ashby on Being There) helps make sure the outdoor songs look very nice with a magic hour feel to them, and the more intimate indoor venue feeling is captured just as well. There wasn't any edge enhancement or haloing that I noticed, everything looked nice.
The film comes with a two-channel stereo soundtrack. The film was shot shortly before Dolby tracks would be the norm, and rear channel usage is virtually nil. So while the songs sound clear, there's no iota of immersion whatsoever. Disappointing.
Nothing. Bummed, but not surprised.
Let's Spend the Night Together was the tour that presumably made the Rolling Stones a full-time stadium band from 1981 onwards, but in terms of performance, it's lost and slightly boring, and the film is a straightforward retelling of two separate concerts edited together, which doesn't help things anything. Technically it's fine albeit a little hollow, and despite what the case says, I couldn't seem to locate a trailer or stills gallery. Best skip this for heartier and more robust Stones fare.