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Ronnie Wood: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Doug Collette By

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Ronnie Wood
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Eagle Rock Entertainment
2020

The colloquialism from which the Ronnie Wood video documentary takes its title, Somebody Up There Likes Me, might well also reference the high-profile musicians with whom he's collaborated over the course of a remarkably enduring career: Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, and Mick Jagger/Keith Richards of the The Rolling Stones. In a reflection of 'Woody''s life as he describes it with such unaffected nonchalance, Academy Award nominee Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) has taken a most unorthodox approach to depicting how out the musician and painter has attained his elevated status precisely by not acquiescing to the subordinate role of sideman to more famous figures.

Contrary to its early biographical approach, Somebody Up There Likes Me is not the usual cinematic chronology of the life of its subject. Make no mistake, there's a good share of vintage footage of the now seventy-year old with his first band, The Birds, and more notably his time with the original Beck Group (with whom he played bass) as well as the Faces (where he continued work with Stewart). And there's even a complete clip of him playing live with the Rolling Stones in the late Seventies, offering a vivid illustration of interviewee Jagger's observation about the lighthearted air Wood injected into the group when he joined to replace Mick Taylor.

With other such conversations most notably populated by the subject himself, wife Sally and kindred spirit/guitar partner Keith Richards, among others, the interweaving of these intervals slowly but surely leads into the primary focus of the film. Near thirty minutes from the end, what amounts to a confessional from Ronnie arrives completely bereft of sanctimony or self-pity. On the contrary, the man depicts a deceptively self-assured and resourceful approach to life, which to his dismay, turns out to have had its downside. And yet, in discussing that topic, this British artist evinces not a whit self-victimization, but rather an acceptance that only adds to his credibility, during the dialogue and beyond.

Ronnie Wood delivers these frank admissions in a fleetingly somber but generally good-natured tone of voice. It's quite a leap from dialogue at the outset of the film to these more extended and revelatory talk(s) near the conclusion, but director Figgis' video cuts, on more than one occasion lightning fast (to highlight the significance thereof?), effectively set up other portions of the narrative that deserve and receive more attention, i.e., those pieces showing Ronnie painting or drawing (not to mention playing guitar in a way that's improved markedly since he became the fretboard partner of the indefatigable 'Glimmer Twin').

As a result, this unique and refreshing twist on the conventional biopic story-line furthers the brisk unfurling of Somebody Up There Likes Me, rendering it a supremely entertaining experience that continues into its bonus features. As often as not (or more so), such add-ons to main content are redundant or superfluous, but not here. In fact, the concert footage of Woody performing his 2018 homage to Chuck Berry not only amplifies how well he knows his roots, but also how well he's always known his place within an ensemble; these clips actually serve to recapitulate the image left earlier in the film, from a solo venture in 1974 prior to his joining the Stones (but including Richards and Stewart). The sum effect is to reaffirm how humble and generous he is in sharing the stage with bandmates (here including guest vocalist and old friend Imelda May).

Perhaps most tellingly, though, this one-hundred forty or so minutes on DVD concludes with two segments featuring Ronnie Wood's passion for painting ("In The Studio") and sculpting ("Half Man, Half Horse"). Short as they are in duration, each (and both together) supply emphatic punctuation to a graphic illustration of the abiding power of creativity to both revitalize and sustain a life well-lived.

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