“Being in the right place at the right time,” is how Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood sums up his good fortunes in the Mike Figgis directed documentary, Somebody Up There Likes Me. Releasing on September 18th as a Virtual Cinema Event in the US, with DVD and Blu-Ray to follow in October, the film chronicles the life and career of Wood, who has been with the Stones since Mick Taylor’s departure in 1975. Although it runs under 90 minutes, you get a good inkling of who the real Ronnie Wood is, which is the Ronnie Wood you always assumed he was by watching his onstage personality. He laughs easily, doesn’t sugarcoat truths and wholeheartedly loves what he does.
Opening with Wood sketching, another passion that has taken on it’s own subculture, so to speak, Figgis continues to keep the camera steady on either Wood’s face or his hands. The powerful thing about both is you see how they reveal the character in front of us. A dancer bent over in a stretch-like maneuver comes to life as Wood draws a line here, then there, looking much like goobly-gock before it transforms itself. The same can be said of Wood’s face. He may look wide-eyed at first but then the wrinkles and the crinkles burst open and you hear that laugh or the raspy voice and all is revealed.
Wood has already told much of his truths in his autobiography, Ronnie, so it’s not like we’re getting BIG reveals in the documentary. But it’s the way that Figgis illuminates the telling of his story that keeps you glued to the screen. Hearing Wood talk about his alcoholic, but not abusive, father, at first laughing at his inebriated shenanigans before admitting it was hard on his mother and his family to see his father act that way, is humanizing. Later on when he talks about his own drop down the rabbit hole with alcohol and drugs, there is no humor. The pipe owned him, he readily, and sadly, admits.
Bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts add their own insights to the man they call Woody; as does Rod Stewart, who was with him in the Jeff Beck Group and The Faces. Singer Imelda May and Wood’s wife Sally are also among the talking heads. An old interview with Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, who had also managed the Jeff Beck Group pre-Zep, is quite interesting, as is both Stewart’s and Wood’s comments regarding the big, powerful man and music’s ties to nefarious mob-ish tactics.
Another highlight is, of course, the music chosen. Thank goodness we get something non-stereotypical when it comes to the Stones music. We get a full-length “When The Whip Comes Down,” and a 1964 rendering of “Oh Carol” that soundtracks the time when Wood was discovering the band while in his own group, The Birds. What a breath of fresh air to see these tunes. There is also footage of Wood playing harmonica and acoustic guitar as Figgis’ cameras rolled for the documentary and you see just how talented Wood is on his own.
Stones fans will certainly get a kick out Somebody Up There Likes Me, as it’s Woody being Woody, telling portions of his story. And with as much honesty as it contains, I felt like I wanted more. I wanted him telling even more stories – about his music, his passion for art, his friendships. But a documentary can’t go too far from it’s center without losing what it’s originally about, so I understand the focus. And there are tidbits. Wood talks about the excess of Keith Moon, the still-bafflement of why Jeff Beck just up and left before they were to play Woodstock and his amusing amazement that he’s NOT still twenty-nine years old (he turned 73 in June). It’s all engaging all because Woody is who he has always been: himself.
For more information on how you can purchase a ticket for Somebody Up There Likes Me, go to www.ronniewoodmovie.com