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Up close with The Rolling Stones' Ron Wood

Jochen Kürten
July 9, 2020

He often stands in the shadows of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but guitarist Ronnie Wood is now the focus of a new documentary film by Mike Figgis. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" shows the man beyond the rock legend.

Filmstill Ronnie Wood
Image: Eagle Rock Films/Andy Muggleton

After several months of closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, film theaters are slowly reopening, at least in some countries and with strict restrictions. Since Hollywood studios are waiting for the situation to stabilize before they release their major blockbusters, many smaller film distributors are now releasing independent features and documentaries in the meantime.  

In this context, Mike Figgis' documentary Ronnie Wood: Somebody Up There Likes Me is one of the first new titles to hit European cinemas. It had premiered at the London Film Festival last year.

Fans of The Rolling Stones have different reasons to rejoice: Not only the band has just released their first new single in eight years, there is now a movie focusing on one of its members who's often been left in the shadow of frontmen Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: second guitarist Ron Wood.

Ron Wood was not part of the band's first line-up; he only joined the Stones in 1975 to replace Mick Taylor. But he's still an institution in the legendary British band.

Global Citizen Together At Home Concert with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts
The Stones at the 'One World: Together At Home' concert in April held to support frontline healthcare workersImage: Getty Images for Global Citizen

An intimate portrait of a musician 

Ronnie Wood: Somebody Up There Likes Me is not an expansive biographical film with long concert performances, as was the case with Martin Scorsese's Stones epic concert film, Shine a Light from 2008. Mike Figgis directed an intimate portrait of the musician, mainly relying on interviews from recent years.

Mike Figgis admits that he's "not a big rock 'n' roll fan," as he's rather into jazz and classical music. But according to the director, "It's impossible not to know The Rolling Stones, and it's impossible not to know Ronnie Wood. He has alwavys interested me personally."

Wood's colleagues Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts are also interviewed in the 70-minute film, which includes a few concert excerpts as well as Super 8 film snippets from earlier times.

And of course at the center of the film is 73-year-old Ron Wood, whose furrowed face reflects the fact that his most durable companion — besides music — was alcohol.

Filmstill Ronnie Wood
Director Mike Figgis with the guitaristImage: Eagle Rock Films/Andy Muggleton

Figgis explained that he deliberately avoided extensive research on the musician ahead of the shoot: "I did not want to arrive with a list of prepared questions, but rather wanted to have an open dialogue with him." And that's what can be felt in the conversation between the director and the musician, who discuss art (Ronnie Wood has also been a painter for many years), the musician's parents and siblings, his youth in the north of London, drugs and alcohol — and of course music, the Rolling Stones and a rock 'n' roll era that seems long gone but still has many fans.

"There is a basic rule that runs through all types of music, a kind of unwritten law. I don't know what it is. But I apply it," says Ronnie Wood, born in London in 1947, in the film. This somewhat enigmatic statement could sound arrogant coming from another musician, but in the documentary, Ronnie Wood comes across as deeply authentic. While Mick Jaggers appears confident and eloquent and Wood's fellow guitarist Keith Richards also seems to flirt with his own image, Wood conveys a down-to-earth, unpretentious attitude. 

Beyond the Rolling Stones legend

Figgis manages to reveal a few unknown sides of the famous musician in the documentary. He portrays Wood not only as a musician, but also as he works at the easel, painting delicate ballerinas — like a modern-day London version of French painter Edgar Degas. 

Ronnie Wood drawing with pastels
Ronnie Wood drawing with pastelsImage: Eagle Rock Films/Andy Muggleton

"I particularly love the clear lines in his art. It is very interesting to watch him at work," says Mike Figgis. "You witness a completely different aspect of his personality as an artist — pure observation and concentration." These scenes were essential for the director, who wanted to reveal Wood beyond his role as a musician.

Soundtrack created by Ronnie Wood and director

And then, of course, there's the music. "I realized that the best score for this documentary had to be a Ronnie Wood soundtrack — something new that we would work on together," says Mike Figgis.

The director, who is also a composer, normally writes the scores for his films himself, but in this case he developed the music together with Wood: "I cut out a new soundtrack from his improvisations, for which he recorded additional tracks, creating a very nice layering that I think was an important part of the creative process for the film," says Figgis.

The documentary Ronnie Wood: Somebody Up There Likes Me is therefore not only an interesting film about a legend of rock history, but also a listening pleasure for all fans of Ronnie Wood and The Rolling Stones.