“We didn’t want to do a special,” Gibney explained. “We wanted to do a documentary that really looked at some of the key pieces that Rolling Stone had done over the years and it seemed like a good time to celebrate that since we are at a time when print journalism is under attack.”
The recently released biography, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which has been rumored to be a tad less loving, is not connected to the film.
Before the screening, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler described the pressure that came with commissioning the project. “It was both a privilege and a huge responsibility because we wanted to get it exactly right and do Jann and the magazine justice.”
The doc comes on the heels of news that Rolling Stone is up for sale. Wenner, the magazine’s co-founder and publisher, said in September that he hoped to find a buyer “with lots of money.”
“There’s a bitter irony there,” said Gibney at the film’s after party at the Pool – formerly the Four Seasons. “So this is our way of saying that line from ‘Death of a Salesman’ – ‘attention must be paid.'”
The series traces the iconic magazine’s emergence and the moments that have shaped it over its 50 years. The film includes unheard recordings from journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, interviews with Bruce Springsteen as well as the infamous 2014 publication of “A Rape on Campus,” the article — later retracted — that spoke of a brutal sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Rolling Stone paid out $1.65 million to the Phi Kappa Psi chapter of UVA after the fraternity sued for $25 million.
“This film is not without its critical moments,” Gibney said. “We go into the (UVA) piece in part two.”
Despite the high cost of licensing hits from Springsteen, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Tina Turner, popular music is sprinkled throughout the doc.
“Getting the rights was a long, difficult process,” Foster said. “What really saved us was that we were making a film about Rolling Stone magazine. If you say to a musician, ‘this is a doc about that magazine,’ then they of course want to be a part of it.”
HBO will run the doc over two nights, starting Nov. 6.
(Pictured: Jann Wenner with documentary filmmakers Blair Foster and Alex Gibney)