Doc shows Anita Pallenberg as Rolling Stones muse

Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards travel with baby Marlon. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
1 of 5 | Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards travel with baby Marlon. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

LOS ANGELES, May 3 (UPI) -- The makers of the documentary Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, in theaters and digital video-on-demand Friday, said they wanted to show how their subject was a muse for The Rolling Stones.

Marlon Richards, Pallenberg's son with Keith Richards, provided excerpts from a memoir Pallenberg never finished and 8mm film shot during Rolling Stones tours to filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill.


"She's always been misunderstood," Marlon Richards told UPI in a phone interview. "After she passed, we found more and more material, so we decided now's the time."

Marlon Richards said Pallenberg's reluctance to speak publicly about her relationships with Brian Jones and Keith Richards before her death in 2017 allowed fans to speculate that Pallenberg tried to break up the band.

Marlon Richards said Simon Wells' biography of Pallenberg contained false information.

"[Wells] did all his research on Google I believe," Marlon Richards said.


Pallenberg was an actor in films like A Degree of Murder and Barbarella. She met the band while on a modeling assignment in Munich and dated Stones founder and lead guitarist Brian Jones from 1965 to 1967 while he descended into drug abuse before he died in 1969.

"He was incredibly abusive and disintegrating as a person," Zill told UPI in a Zoom interview. "I think the drugs were really getting to him."

Pallenberg eventually left Jones for Keith Richards, the father of Marlon and Angela, and also spent some time with Mick Jagger. As a result, Pallenberg inspired some of the Rolling Stones' classics, according to people close to the band seen in the documentary.

Keith Richards allegedly wrote "Gimme Shelter" when he thought he'd lost Pallenberg to Jagger.

"I think Keith says it himself," Bloom said. "I think he was as upset with Mick probably as he was with Anita."

When Pallenberg returned to Keith Richards, Jagger allegedly wrote "You Can't Always Get What You Want" out of his romantic frustration. Bloom and Zill said songs may not be solely inspired by real-life incidents, but those incidents are part of the creative tapestry.

"It was definitely inspired by that period of time and the various dynamics that were playing out among that group," Zill said.


Marlon Richards said he only learned in the last 20 years that his birth may have inspired Keith Richards to co-write "Wild Horses."

"I spoke to my father about it and he said, 'Yeah, part of the lyrics were about you and part of the lyrics were Mick Jagger writing about his relationship with Marianne Faithfull,'" Marlon Richards said. "Sadly enough, I hear the song at a lot at funerals."

Catching Fire includes excerpts of those Rolling Stones songs that pertain to Pallenberg. Bloom and Zill said they could not afford to license the Stones music, but could legally clear its use under the Fair Use Doctrine of copyright law.

"We worked with this amazing lawyer who helped us navigate the specific ins and outs of how we do that," Zill said. "It wasn't something [that went] through official channels."

Marlon Richards traveled with his parents when the Rolling Stones were on tour until he was 8 years old. He said he has seen photographic evidence of himself on tour with the Stones before he was old enough to remember.

"I must've been 2," he said. "My mother was insistent on it. She was like, 'This is the life we lead. This is what your father does and we're going to follow him where he goes.'"


Marlon Richards and sister Angela discuss some of the tragedies they witnessed in Catching Fire. They had a third sibling, Tara Jo Jo Gunne, who died at 10 weeks old.

"He would've been 48 now, and I really wish I had a younger brother to beat up on," Marlon Richards said.

Before Pallenberg officially broke up with Keith Richards in 1980, her boyfriend, Scott Cantrell, died imitating the Russian Roulette scene in The Deer Hunter in 1979. Marlon Richards was in the house at the time.

"I heard this explosion upstairs, and then my mother comes running downstairs drenched in blood, screaming, saying Scott had shot himself," Marlon Richards said. "We were the only two people in the house, so we had to call the police."

Much of the memoir came from interviews Pallenberg did with musician Lenny Kaye and biography author Victor Bockris. Richards said this was the first time he heard in detail about Pallenberg's relationship with Jones because she would not discuss it with him or his sister, Angela.

"She goes into very dark detail in the transcribed interview," Marlon Richards said. "From what I gather, she gave as good as she got."


Bloom said Pallenberg's relationship with Jones was toxic.

"He was not playing music anymore," Bloom said. "A lot of his friendships had fractured so I think for anybody in that situation with him it would have been pretty rough."

Marlon Richards became a graphic designer, but applied his visual design to music. Having worked in the photo research and archives department of Atlantic Records, the Stones' one-time label, and for a publisher of coffee table books about musicians, he said he grew to love jazz from the '30s to the '60s.

After Catching Fire, Marlon Richards said he may still create a book out of Pallenberg's archives, adding the book would have to include a lot of visual material to properly capture his mother.

"You wouldn't get her unless you saw her," he said. "Then you might not even get half of her from that."

In the film, Scarlett Johansson reads the excerpts of Pallenberg's memoir. Marlon Richards and the filmmakers acknowledged that Pallenberg did not sound like Johansson.

Marlon Richards said the celebrity who most sounds like Pallenberg is Sophia Loren. However, Johansson embodies Pallenberg's sotto voce tone, albeit with an American accent, he and the filmmakers said.

Zill said they had tried capturing Pallenberg's German and Italian accent, but Johansson best embodied the portrayal of Pallenberg they were constructing.


"The German sounded too German and the Italian sounded too Italian," Zill said, adding that Johansson was "believable in her huskiness, her sexiness and her knowingness."

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Left to right, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, of the Rolling Stones, hold a press conference for their "Bridges to Babylon" tour in New York City on August 18, 1997. The British rock group formed in 1962. Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI | License Photo

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