MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 3, 2024: CATCHING FIRE: THE STORY OF ANITA PALLENBERG

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Blending frank interviews with a treasure trove of archival images and their subject’s own words, filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill paint an incredibly intimate portrait of a 1960s and ’70s icon in Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg. As a model, actress, mother, muse, and more, Pallenberg lived a life that was turned up to 11 as she became an integral part of the group surrounding the Rolling Stones in their heyday but was never anything less than her own woman.

Using passages from her unpublished autobiography (read by Scarlett Johannson) as narration, Catching Fire tells Pallenberg’s story in a largely linear way, starting with her European childhood and then her arrival in New York City in her late teens, where she spent time with Andy Warhol and his Factory before continuing on to Paris to model. It was while she was modeling that she first crossed paths with the Rolling Stones, which ultimately led to her getting romantically involved with Brian Jones. But it was Keith Richards — who helped Pallenberg flee Jones after he got abusive — who became her lasting love and, eventually, the father to her three children.

Pallenberg’s time with Jones and Richards definitely had its share of sex, drugs, and rock and roll — and the movie’s stories about those wild times are fascinating. But Catching Fire finds many small, sweet moments to linger on, too, like a sun-kissed vacation cruise or Pallenberg leaning into the early days of motherhood after the birth of her first son, Marlon. Pallenberg’s friends and family members remember her as both a sophisticated, stylish woman with many interests and talents and a lonely, vulnerable person who faced tragic loss. Richards is interviewed but never appears on camera (the same goes for Pallenberg’s crony Marianne Faithfull), while Marlon and his sister, Angela, offer honest recollections of a childhood that had lots of love but also constant chaos.

Bloom and Zill intercut these interviews with footage and images that feel so immediate and personal that you have to assume they were captured by someone in the Stones’ innermost of inner circles. That, combined with the candid observations and thoughts expressed through the autobiography passages, makes Catching Fire a powerfully compelling tale of a woman who never sat on the sidelines when there was something interesting happening and always lived her life to the fullest, even when it was hard. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sherin Nicole If you want to catch hold of an audience, start with, “I’ve been called a witch, a slut, and a murderer…but I don’t mean to settle scores, I’m reclaiming my soul.” But that’s just part of the fire in the title: Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg is an artwork composed of “memory images”—mementos captured in film and through the memories of Pallenberg’s inner circle. That includes the legendary Keith Richards. The film is an unveiling of her impact on rock music through her work & affairs with The Rolling Stones. But most affectingly, it is the unpublished memoir that her son and grandchildren discover, that allows Scarlett Johansson to give voice, both defiant and raw, to Pallenberg through her own words. Filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill skillfully intermix that narration with archival footage and home movies, immersing us in the mind and times of a woman who finally takes her place as a kingmaker of rock royalty.

Loren King Loren King Keith Richards called her his muse; Marianne Faithful wrote Sister Morphine about her; she starred alongside Jane Fonda in the now quintessential ‘60s kitsch film Barbarella; and Kate Moss called her “the original bohemian rock chick.” The charismatic Anita Pallenberg who died in 2017 left a huge imprint on the sex, drugs and rock and roll era so it’s heartening that she gets her due via the riveting documentary Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg. Filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill draw on captivating archival footage and interviews with friends and Pallenberg’s two surviving adult children to create a portrait of Pallenberg as a seminal figure of the ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture. Narrated by Scarlett Johansson who reads from Pallenberg’s unpublished autobiography, the film is a time capsule of the free wheeling ‘60s when Pallenberg rose to fame alongside the Rolling Stones and engaged in a long relationship with Keith Richards with whom she had three children. Stylish, self assured, beautiful and talented, Pallenberg starred in a number of films including Performance with Mick Jagger. Although the story takes the familiar descent into drug addiction, Pallenberg was able later in life to get sober, repair relationships with her children, earn a college degree, write her life story, and return to acting. All this makes Catching Fire not just an important chronicle of an era but a hopeful story of the survival of an unforgettable figure.

Nell Minow: The documentary about “the original bohemian rock chick” has a wealth of arhival footage and a candid unpublished memoir, narrated sympathetically by Scarlett Johanson. A rule-breaker by nature, she gravitated toward the glittery wild children of the 80s, Andy Warhol, in New York, and then two different members of The Rolling Stones. She will always be remembered less for her modest career as model and actress than for those she was with, and sometimes inspired, for the “shambolic” years she spent on drugs, even after her children were born. But this documentary gives her a chance to tell her part of the story.

Leslie Combemale Anita Pallenberg was such an interesting and complicated woman. Bloom and Zill’s biodoc offers an unfiltered view of her life and choices, warts and all, demanding we consider how our own perceptions of womenhood, motherhood, and creativity are flitered through society’s expectations and judgments. Marlon Richards, Pallenberg’s own son, is interviewed and credited as an executive producer, and it’s compelling to hear him retell some of the hairier stories of his childhood, clearly after what must have been decades of therapy. Watch for yourself to consider your own gender biases, and see a true alpha female, a true muse of the 60s and 70s, and someone who made some truly heinous choices, only to right her own path late in life. Fascinating.

Jennifer Merin filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill’s Catching
Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg
is an intimate biodoc by about the woman who ran with the Rolling Stones and was their (sort of) den mother and, most famously, Brian Jones’ and then Keith Richards’ lover. Back in the day, Anita Pallenberg was at the center of rock and roll and avantgarde culture. She was an icon — beautiful, sexy, liberated, fearless, charismatic. energetic and the locus of sometimes scandalous social drama. Legions of young women wanted to be her, copied her style and emulated her behavior. Using archival footage with voiceover narration from Pallenberg’s unpublished journals and on camera interviews with the likes of Marianne Faithful, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Moss and Marlon Richards, Bloom and Zill give us the arc of a lifetime of celebrity that came to a close with a wish to withdraw. Whether you lived through Anita Pallenberg’s front page period or know little about it, Catching Fire is a fascinating historical chronical.

Nikki Fowler: We always hear the rumors of the women close to famous iconic musicians and bands and the labels they seem to carry, despite that they are artistic inspirations as well as supporting female figures in rock history. Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg is a rare and intimate glimpse into the world of the fashionable and glamorous muse of one of Britain’s most beloved rock and roll groups, The Rolling Stones. In Catching Fire, Anita Pallenberg’s narrative is voiced by actress Scarlett Johansson, with words from Pallenberg’s private memoir. Despite her being labeled an “evil seductress” by fans and accused of attempting to break up the band, this riveting doc is a full throttle view on the good and the bad. It’s an opulent peek of the life of a fascinating woman and her rock star family.

Sandie Angulo Chen: While Pattie Boyd is legendary for having married both George Harrison and his close friend Eric Clapton, the story of Anita Pallenberg, lover of two Rolling Stones — Brian Johnson and then Keith Richards — seems lesser known. Filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill amplify her story in the biographical documentary Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, featuring voice-over narration by Scarlet Johanssen speaking as Pallenberg, archival footage, and interviews with Richards, Pallenberg’s friend/former Mick Jagger partner Marianne Faithfull, and Pallenberg and Richards’ adult children. An Italian-German model and actress, Anita was talented, ambitious, and adventurous. The idea of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll might sound like a cliche, but Anita Pallenberg lived it and inspired several Rolling Stones songs. A surprisingly powerful documentary about a woman who defied convention and lived unapologetically ahead of her time.

Liz Whittemore For the first time, Anita Pallenberg tells her story in the documentary Catching Fire. Her magnetic personality, wild intelligence, and stunning good looks got her in front of some of the world’s most influential forces of nature in the 60s, from Andy Warhol to The Rolling Stones. Her volatile affair with Brian Jones went from loving to toxic thanks to drug use. Her relationship with Keith Richards produces love, a son, addiction, and chaos. Actor Jake Weber describes Pallenberg as a surrogate mother and the Alpha of a household of men. She was a rebel without a cause. She existed in the rock ‘n’ roll spontaneity, her little son Marlon in tow, constantly running from the law until settling in the only country that would take them, Switzerland. The film utilizes archival footage, innumerable photographs, interviews, home videos, and Anita’s memoir narrated by the unmistakable dulcet tones of Scarlett Johansson. Some of the most intimate footage comes in the form of tragic news. Pallenberg’s unfiltered anguish is essential to humanizing this “It” girl. Her effortless confessions give us rich insight and emotional strongholds within the whirlwind life she lived. Catching Fire invites us inside the world of a flawed and fierce powerhouse of a woman whose influence over one of the most famous bands in history flows off the screen.

Cate Marquis Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg is a fascinating documentary about a now largely-forgotten but unique woman, charismatic and ahead of her time, who was a muse to the Rolling Stones. It is also a quintessential tale of that era then called the Swinging Sixties, an explosion of artistic, musical, cultural and societal change starting in the early 1960s. Anita Pallenberg was the Rome-born daughter of an artistic Italian-German family, a charismatic, intellectually-sharp, adventurous beauty, who wowed the Rolling Stones with her breathe of knowledge, continental style and unfailing taste. As a constant companion and muse to the Stones, she was a media star, a “rock ‘n roll goddess,” with careers as a model and a risk-taking actress, as well as a fashion icon. She had affairs with the Stones’ Brian Jones, and Keith Richards, with whom she had three children, and she created Keith Richards’ signature fashion style as well as inspiring several of the Stone’s most famous songs, including Mick Jagger’s “You Can’t Always Get Want You Want.” Filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill tell her rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story, through never-seen footage, stills, interviews with those who knew her, like Marianne Faithful and Kate Moss, and her children, and readings from her unpublished autobiography. It is a remarkable tale of love, life on the cutting edge, heartbreak and tragedy, about a ground-breaking woman who may have been ahead of her time, with untapped talents, someone who went through the wildest part of the “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” era – and lived to tell the tale.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg

Directors: Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill

Release Date: May 3, 2024

Running Time: 80 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriters: Documentary based on Anita Pallenberg’s unpublished journals

Distribution Company: Magnolia Pictures

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

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Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).