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ROLLING STONES AT THE MAX (article first published : 2005-11-30)

What most surprises about Rolling Stones at the Max, an 89-minute concert film running at IMAX Gateway and featuring one of the world's greatest bands, is why it has taken so long to reach us, having been shot for the giant Imax screen more than 15 years ago in August 1990.

Since then it has been seen by some 1.5million people in 17 countries, has raked in more than $14 million and has been critically acclaimed, America's Daily Variety saying of it: “The future of concert films is here, and its name is Imax".

Which brings us to the next puzzle. Why, considering this success - and time has done nothing to rob the film of any of its power and glory - have more music acts not followed and done the same? Imagine Madonna's amazing Blonde Ambition Tour in this format, for instance. Or Kylie Minogue's Showgirl tour.

Premiered recently with much fanfare at Gateway's Imax Theatre, the film features the Stones' Steel Wheels tour, for which more than 6.2 million tickets were sold for 117 concerts in 60 cities. It was shot over five nights in Turin, Berlin and London, and features 15 Stones songs, opening with Start Me Up, Sad, Sad Tale and Harlem Shuffle.

It goes on to offer classics such as Honky Tonk Women, for which two colossal air balloons, shaped like funky women, are inflated on each end of a massive stage resembling a sort of futuristic airship from a Mad Max movie.

All steel structures, netting and lighting rigs flanked by long, swirling staircases, the set was designed as an "industrial wasteland", apparently inspired by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.

Charismatic vocalist Mick Jagger in a range of outfits varying from embroidered jackets to crop-top Ts, joins fellow Stones Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and Bill Wyman to perform greats such as Ruby Tuesday, Brown Sugar, Rock and A Hard Place and You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Then, after a 10-minute interval, we get hits such as Paint It Black and the trademark Satisfaction, for which Jagger gets up close with his audience before a finale sequence exploding with fireworks and showers of gold foil. Magic stuff!

Conspicuous by their absence are personal favourites Get Off Of My Cloud, Emotional Rescue and Angie, but then one can't have everything.

Imax's large-format film frame is 10 times larger than conventional 35mm film, offering images of unsurpassed clarity and impact, augmented by a superb six-channel, multi-way sound system. More than 900 million people have seen an IMAX presentation since the medium premiered in 1970. Do yourself a favour and become a statistic to be added to that tally, because this is a stunning concert.

As the film's director, Julien Temple, the brainchild of many Stones rock videos, has noted: "Most concert films are no substitute for being there, and being there is no substitute for being in the front row. One thing we can do here is not just put you in the front row, but actually put you on stage. Can there be a bigger thrill?"

One can only nod in agreement. The film, for which up to seven cameras were used at any one time, is presented as pure concert footage, nothing else. It proves such a thrill, one is often tempted to break into applause between songs. Rock on! 9/10 – Billy Suter.




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