Few bands ever reach the level of the Rolling Stones. They’ve been together for 50 years and still tour the world selling out one show after another. The Rolling Stones succeeded in transitioning out of the early ’60s rock explosion, through the pop generation of the ’80s, the grunge of the ’90s, and into the overload of genres available every second of the day that we live in now. That kind of longevity doesn’t just come with a hard work ethic and magical camaraderie, it comes from fans existing the world over who see them as more than just a rock band. They see the Rolling Stones as giving voice to a revolution in places where revolution can get you killed.
Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America surpasses any music/tour documentary I’ve seen to date. The film follows the band as they embark on a tour of ten Latin American cities, culminating in a ground-breaking performance in Havana, Cuba, a place where people living there today were once sent to jail for just for playing the Stones records. It was the first time the band played in a number of their stops, but in Havana, it was the biggest concert put on since the revolution in 1959. It represented more than the opening of commerce and culture between Cuba and the Western world. It was a sign of tectonic shifts for the Cuban people, more freedom, more rights, more opportunity. All of that wrapped up in a single logo with lipstick and a big tongue sticking out. Richards summed it up nicely, “Anytime you ban something, you start a movement.”
The movie opens showing Havana and what the people there are living like, but it quickly moves into a rehearsal space where we witness the Stones practicing. It immediately humanizes them, bringing them down from rock music legends to ordinary guys who still need to practice to stay on top of their game. In particular, seeing Mick Jagger lazily walking in front of the microphone, shaking maracas with not even a touch of his trademark swagger crystallized the delicate rarity of what you’re witnessing.
Jagger shows throughout how much he cares about putting on a good show and reminisces about understanding at a very young age he was a natural performer. As he stepped into the music realm he brought those skills immediately to task knowing when and how to get the audience involved. He also makes an attempt in each place to learn something about it so he can riff with the crowds about local or cultural touchpoints. It’s another way of making them feel connected to the show.
Keith Richards only proves himself more and more to defy any and every law of aging. During one scene he opens the door to his hotel room for the camera crew and he looks like he could blow away in a strong wind, but the man is an entire weather system of fortitude. He will certainly go down in history as the oldest living rock star and it would be no surprise to hear him playing guitar on his death bed. He plays with such smoothness and effortlessness, more than once it seems like he and the guitar are a single musical creation. For all the partying, drugs, smoking and hard life he’s endured, Richards is still touched every single time the crowd chants their complete and utter devotion to him. Tearing up after fifty years of stadium-sized shows is a testament to his humanity.
Ronnie Wood smiles and smokes his way through the film, both on and off stage. His personality emanates love, positivity, and creativity. We follow Wood as he meets up with a long time friend and painter. The two barely share a language, but it’s an amazing scene to witness as they converse together more eloquently through painting than with words. Wood puts another creative talent on full display. It’s almost unfair that he is that good at multiple things.
Rounding up the phenomenal rock crew is Charlie Watts, the silent and stoic drummer. For almost half the film, Watts isn’t even seen uttering a single word. When he’s finally brought out in front, it is not surprising how he talks about his role in the group.
I’m just doing the best I can for them to play the song.
He really is the string tying the band together, giving them the foundation to rely on, while letting them stretch out musically and allowing the music to roam where it wants to.
The cinematography is beautiful, poignant, and bursting with life. The editing evenly balances the experience of the band with the experience of the citizens creating a wonderful juxtaposition about which side is affected more.
Olé Olé Olé! is the most gorgeous tour documentary I’ve ever come across. It’s a religious experience for Rolling Stones fans and a testament to what they mean to people all over the world.