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Sympathy for the devils

11/14/2012

The Rolling Stones evolve from villains in ‘Crossfire Hurricane’

With “Crossfire Hurricane” (Thursday, 8 p.m., HBO), the Rolling Stones have produced a worthy 50th-anniversary documentary. It chronicles the group’s journey from being “the band everybody hated to the band everybody loves,” in Mick Jagger’s words. We learn that the group consciously set out to become the bad-guy counterparts to the Beatles in the mid-1960s. “The Beatles got the white hats,” says guitarist extraordinaire Keith Richards. “What’s left? The black hat.”               

For more than a dozen years, the Stones earned that black hat by causing riots, getting busted and taunting the straight world with their hedonistic behavior. The incredible footage puts you on stage and backstage in the center of the storm — the “crossfire hurricane” of the title. The documentary is nothing like the one the surviving Beatles made about its own experience, as the Stones don’t provide the same level of insight into itself or its times. What the band does provide is a visceral thrill — the kind you can get only from diabolical musicians creating art outside the normal social boundaries.                

The thing that sets the Stones apart from other blues-based poètes maudits — from Robert Johnson to Jim Morrison — is its members’ knack for surviving into old age. “Usually the guy in the black hat gets killed in the end,” says Richards. “Not this time, brother.”

 

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‘Witness’

Monday, 8 p.m. (HBO)

This extraordinary documentary series follows war photographers into global conflict zones. It’s scary enough just sitting at home and watching the footage — I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the photographer braving danger in Africa or Brazil, with the simple goal of showing the world the truth.                

In this week’s installment, we get close to French photographer Veronique de Viguerie as she tramps through the bush in South Sudan, chronicling a local militia’s brave fight against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. De Viguerie is fearless and resourceful, not to mention pregnant. “Some people say I am crazy to go there pregnant,” she says in her imperfect English. “But all over the world there are millions of women when they’re pregnant doing really hard work. And if they can do it, why I cannot do it?”               

It’s not easy to take in the grisly images here, but you feel guilty looking away. As de Viguerie might say: If she can put herself in danger to tell an important story, why we cannot watch it?

 

‘Catfish: The TV Show’

Monday, 10 p.m. (MTV)

Sigmund Freud insisted that “anatomy is destiny.” But is that still true in the Facebook era, when you can create a profile with a glamorous fake photo, then get someone to fall in love with this persona over the Internet? You’ve readjusted your anatomy and, perhaps, your destiny.               

Nev Schulman’s “Catfish,” a TV series based on his 2010 documentary of the same name, sets out to explore the mysteries of digital dating. Each week, Schulman and his crew meet people involved in online-only relationships and help them figure out if their beloveds are authentic. You might expect a glib, sneering tone, similar to other TV dating shows, but Schulman is an earnest type who takes the lovers’ feelings seriously. (In the original documentary, he himself got burned by an online fake, so he knows what it’s like.) That leads to poignant moments, as when a guy discovers that the impressive blond beauty he fell for online is really an overweight high school dropout with self-esteem issues.                

“I couldn’t handle the depression anymore,” the faker admits. “So I had to figure out something to make myself happy.”                

Catfish makes you feel sympathy for both the liars and the lied-to, and that’s an achievement. Steel yourself for an emotional hour of TV. CV

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