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‘Rolling Stones at the Max’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 15, 1991

Watching an IMAX film usually means swooping vicariously over Niagara Falls, Monument Valley, the Antarctic, the moon and other gee-ographic wonders.

How does the Rolling Stones in concert sound to you?

Yes, the world's greatest, most cadaverous rock 'n' roll band has broken into the visual big time. In "Rolling Stones at the Max," the first feature-length IMAX film, they perform old and new favorites in audiovisual massiveness. Drive to Baltimore and you can enjoy them larger -- and more vivid -- than life.

IMAX doesn't mean maximum image for nothing. Its picture frames are 10 times the size of conventional 35mm film. The clarity is amazing. It blasts music and sound effects at you in six-track Dolby and the screen's the size of a building.

At this concert, you get all the atmosphere and none of the hassle. That's worth $15 right there. No more lining up all night for 50th-row seats. No more awful warmup bands. No more antisocial lugheads standing in front of you.

But you can still hear security guards' walkie talkies around you, and the buzzing of the crowd. Director Julien Temple's visuals allow for insatiable ogling. One moment you're shoulder-to-shoulder with the audience -- the awesome "Blade Runner" stage set towering over you. Then you're in the wings, practically holding a guitar as a stagehand tunes it up. Now you're gliding along with Mick Jagger as the energetic singer prances from one end of the stage to the other. In an IMAX movie, you're on the wings of a bird.

The roar of the crowd, the comfort of plush seating.

Above all, you get to see Jagger, Keith Richard (rock 'n' roll's Nosferatu) et al. in their never-too-old-for-rock, pumping presence. They can still do it -- Morrissey be damned. It's an unforgettable charge to see them replay old hits "Tumbling Dice," "Ruby Tuesday," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Satisfaction." They also pound through newer stuff, such as "Start Me Up" and "Rock and a Hard Place."

The stage show is wondrous. Two gigantic blow-up dolls balloon into life during the "Honky Tonk" number. One of them, a buoyant blonde, nurses a cigarette in one hand and dangles a high-heeled shoe from her foot. When the song's over, her deflation is a spectacle to remember.

Temple remembers why you're there. Although the cameras are restless, they never lose sight of the performers. The band's never been known for live musicianship. But, in terms of recordings, it's never sounded better onstage. The songs (filmed during the 1989 European "Steel Wheels" tour) are power-driven, almost schlock-opera versions of those great hits of long ago. And Keith Richard still can't sing "Happy" and play guitar at the same time. But the Stones are still great to watch, and IMAX accommodates them sensationally.

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