Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge is narrated through the past. Charming and unapologetic archival footage of Rolling Stone magazine’s founding fathers speaking as idealistic 20 somethings ties the new HBO documentary together, and it serves well to represent the core youthful energy that still drives the media superpower.
The documentary, that premiers its first part Nov. 6, does well in presenting the true ‘stories from the edge,’ from the beginnings of the magazine that turns 50 years old this year. It also does well in exemplifying the heavy handed role Rolling Stone has played in shaping the ways we consume music, pop culture, and even politics. Where it excels is in inviting the viewer on an emotional journey, through opportunity and loss, and committing to the Rolling Stone manner of representing iconic public figures as vulnerable and human.
Stories From the Edge opens with a collage of classic covers and magazine moments paired with the words that 21 year old co-founder Jann Wenner wrote in his prophetic letter to his readers in Rolling Stone’s first issue, “Rolling Stone is not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces. We’ve been working quite hard on it, and we hope you can dig it.” Everyone did in fact dig it, and in parts 1 and 2 of the four part documentary we’re guided through the stories of the cultural impacts the magazine made and the classic historical moments they were given access to.
Directors Blair Foster and Alex Gibney found a way to group together some completely unrelated anecdotes in a composition that is seamlessly cohesive. The doc follows the trajectory of how Rolling Stone went from a music mag to a major player in the political sphere. There should be no mistake made, however, that the publication had less depth when it was just covering rockstars. The segments that featured the coverage of figures like Tina Turner and Mick Jagger emphasized the unique light Rolling Stone shined on them, during a time where not many other places were quite as observational and analytic in their profile pieces.
One part that stuck out from the rest was Part 2’s portion on John Lennon. Throughout the film we cut to footage of Jann Wenner and famous photographer Annie Leibowitz reminiscing over old photos, and at one point they reach the last photo ever taken of Lennon, photographed by Leibovitz. He is nude, embracing his fully clothed wife Yoko Ono. Leibowitz speaks on how during the shoot he pleaded for both he and Yoko to be on the cover. A few hours afterwards he was shot a killed. For his posthumous cover, Leibovitz and Wenner deliberated over whether Lennon should appear on his own, but Leibovitz insisted what he wanted was the women he loved on the cover with him. The image is now an iconic one, it caught him in the most human and vulnerable moment, and it stuck out as the stunning final photo of a man everyone felt they knew. Rolling Stone didn’t become ‘more than a music magazine’ because of its decision to cover more aspects of culture over time, but because the way it covered music and artists was so audacious and spirited. It was and still is the holy book of counterculture, and if you don’t agree, Stories From the Edge will convince you.