Paul Dugdale’s Rolling Stones tour documentary, “The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America,” arrives just a few short years after Martin Scorsese’s concert doc “Shine a Light,” Brett Morgan’s “Crossfire Hurricane,” and Morgan Neville’s “Keith Richards: Under the Influence,” among others. It also arrives alongside yet another Rolling Stones concert documentary also directed by Dugdale, “Havana Moon,” which will get a one-night-only theatrical release later this month. Given such a glut of recent documentary material on the 54-year-old band, the question has to be asked: Does this particular Rolling Stones film really have any pressing need to exist? In the case of “Olé,” the answer is: “maybe not, but so what?”
Partially a concert film, partially a meandering travelogue, and partially the record of a genuinely historic moment in the band’s later career, “Olé” follows the Stones on their 2016 jaunt through Latin America, culminating with a free open-air concert in Havana that marked the first time a foreign rock band had ever played Cuba. The saga of making that concert happen — despite intense bureaucratic struggles, a last-minute Obama-related rescheduling, and an admonishment from the Pope — provides the film with its natural throughline, though one wonders what sort of footage Dugdale might have saved for his other Stones film this year.
Nonetheless, the March 25 concert (of which two songs are shown in their entirety) is an awesome spectacle. The crowd — some of them clearly familiar with the band’s music, others probably not — seems determined to use the event as a sort of joyous exhalation after the opening of diplomatic relations with the U.S., and the energy is infectious. For Americans and Brits, after so many years of seeing the once-revolutionary music of the 1960s endlessly lionized and turned into commercial jingles, it’s hugely refreshing to see the effect these songs have on a less jaded audience for whom rock and roll still has a whiff of danger, and Cuba is hardly alone in eliciting such unbridled enthusiasm.
In Argentina, for example, Stones fans comprise a recognizable sort of Deadhead-esque urban tribe of hardcore devotees and Stones-inspired bands called “rolingas.” The subculture is an intriguing one, born out of the military dictatorship’s ban on English music, and the filmmakers span out to interview plenty of lips-and-tongue-clad rockers partying and busking in the streets of Buenos Aires. As the band travels via motorcade to the concert venue, we even get to see an endearingly strange recreation of the group’s early days being pursued by screaming fans, though the hysterical teen girls of yore have largely been replaced by older men. (After the band’s limo passes, a cameraman captures a fortysomething Argentinian weeping by the side of the road. “He just saw Mick,” his wife explains sweetly, as the man attempts to hide his face.)
Other stops on the tour aren’t nearly so interesting. Shows in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Peru appear to be largely business as usual, so the filmmakers rely on band member interviews and quasi-staged outings to fill in the gaps between performances. (Ronnie Wood’s Sao Paulo sojourn to meet with a Brazilian street artist feels like the result of a long brainstorming session beginning with “what can we give Ronnie to do?”) Most of these segments tread familiar ground, though the band’s biographers will surely be interested in psychoanalyzing a joint interview/jam session between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As forthrightly described by Richards in his riotous memoir, “My Life,” the two longtime collaborators have not been on the friendliest terms for decades, and whether they’ve since made up or are simply putting on a show for the cameras, it’s fascinating to watch them reminisce about writing “Honky Tonk Women” during a 1968 Brazilian vacation, followed by an acoustic duet performance of the song in the dressing room that’s worth the price of admission alone.
Of course, the band still sounds phenomenal onstage, and the concert scenes are expertly shot, with plenty of roaming on-the-ground footage to take in the audience ambiance. The filmmakers clearly had no shortage of resources, and sometimes they seem intent on flexing them for no obvious reason. At one point, we get a long, unbroken drone shot that begins on the ocean off the coast of Lima, pans up to reveal a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, then slowly zooms in on Richards strumming his guitar next to a rooftop pool. It’s a stunning shot, but why is it here? Who knows. Who cares. It’s only rock and roll.