Monday, April 27, 2020

Tribeca ’20: Somebody Up There Likes Me

During rare nights-off from the Rolling Stones’ constant tour, their saxophonist-sideman, Tim Ries is allowed to book gigs for his “Rolling Stone Project” at nearby jazz clubs. When I saw him play Dazzle in Denver, Ronnie Wood was also there, checking out the show incognito in the back. It was nice to see him digging the music. As the last full official band-member, Wood has an interesting place in rock & roll history, but he wasn’t plucked out of obscurity. Wood reflects on his career in music and chaos that came with it in Mike Figgis’s documentary profile Somebody Up There Likes Me, which would have screened at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, had the CCP and their loyal stooges at WHO not lied to the world regarding human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.

Figgis has always been very hands-on composing music for his films. He is probably best-known for Leaving Las Vegas, but his subsequent career has been very up-and-down. Fortunately, his approach with Wood is quite similar to Red, White, and Blues, his laidback contribution to Martin Scorsese’s PBS anthology, The Blues. Figgis’s musical background also presumably helped build rapport with Wood, who discusses health and addiction issues with great frankness.

Figgis does not interview a lot of talking heads, but the ones he does are pretty impressive, including fellow Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts. He also talks to fellow Faces member Rod Stewart, Imelda May (who played with Wood early in her career), and Wood’s wife, Sally. We also get to hear Wood rehearsing informally in the studio.

Probably the biggest scope in Somebody Up There is the revelation Wood was invited to join the band earlier than he did, but his management never informed him of the offer. There are also plenty of “Behind the Music”-style confessions of hard parting and destructive drug abuse. However, Wood was wise enough to always exercise some degree of restraint, which is probably why he is still alive.

Frankly, Somebody Up There is a livelier film than the Bill Wyman documentary, The Quiet One, but it still can’t beat Beware of Mr. Baker, probably the greatest rock & roll doc of the last twenty-five years, profiling his wild-man contemporary, Ginger Baker. Regardless, Figgis gives the film a similar after-hours-hang vibe that made his contribution to The Blues so much fun. As rock docs go, this is a good, solid one. Recommended for fans of the Stones and British blues rock, Somebody Up There Likes Me is sure to be distributed widely by Eagle Rock Entertainment, even though it will not be formally screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.