Although the Tribeca Film Festival has been indefinitely postponed, several films that were scheduled to screen at the event have been made available to critics for screening.
Ronnie Wood has spent four and a half decades in the spotlight as a guitarist for the Rolling Stones and before that with The Birds and as part of the all-star lineup of the Jeff Beck Group. So at first it would seem odd that director Mike Figgis would open his new documentary about Wood, Somebody Up There Likes Me, with the musician at home, painting. But painting can be a contemplative past time, as the artist tries to determine how to present on canvas what he sees. An appropriate metaphor for Wood himself perhaps, as he presents to us the story of his life and remarkable career. It will be a visual motif that Figgis will return to throughout the documentary.
“It feels weird to be 70, like I’m in a Dali painting. I didn’t expect time to go so quickly,” Wood ruminates early in the film after admitting that he still mentally thinks of himself as 29 years old. But what an interesting seventy years he has had.
As Wood and the film looks back on his life, we are taken on a trip from his early days in a middle-class family in post-War England through Wood’s own particular passage through the British rock scene starting in the mid 1960s. We move through his participation in various landmark rock groups before finally landing his position in the Rolling Stones following the departure of guitarist Mick Taylor. Helping to provide context, embellishment and just a dash of backstage gossip to that journey are the likes of his former Faces and Jeff Beck Group bandmate Rod Stewart and fellow Rolling Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. Figgis also punctuates things with concert footage of the various groups that Wood has performed with and some solo acoustic work from Wood in his home studio.
But Wood is often modest about the fact that he has played with a number of great British rock acts over his career. “I was in the hands of destiny all my life, just being in the right place at the right time,” he says about his path that ultimately led him to the Rolling Stones.
Wood is also candid about his years of substance abuse problems, admitting to “many spiritual awakenings” but still not recommending the lifestyle for anyone. He does draw an interesting parallel with the ritualistic structure of using – rolling a joint, chopping cocaine into lines, etc. – with the structure of music itself that goes a way to explain how someone could be enticed into that world. He is also equally frank about his sobriety and how that drives how he lives today.
But for all of the openness Wood seems to exhibit, the overall film seems to be rather slight. Perhaps its the films abbreviated runtime of under 80s minutes, but even topics like Wood’s decades of addiction seem to get cursory coverage however candid he may be about it when it does get screen time. As such, Somebody Up There Likes Me may serve as a quick primer for anyone interested in the broad strokes of Ronnie Wood’s life and career, but if you’re a Rolling Stones fan looking for deeper, well… you can’t always get what you want.