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Documentary 'Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg' Gives the Legendary Muse Her Due

'Anita is in a lot of those songs,' Keith Richards says in the film. 'She’s a muse, I’m sure. And not just for me."

Source: Magnolia Pictures

'Catching Fire' takes a closer look at the life of Anita Pallenberg.

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A witch, a bad influence, a muse, a misunderstood woman. All of these descriptors can and have been used to try to capture the larger-than-life personality of Anita Pallenberg.

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Source: © Michael Cooper. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Pallenberg first came into the Rolling Stones' orbit when she began dating Brian Jones.

A more balanced portrayal has now come into view with the Magnolia Pictures documentary Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg. Presented with unseen historical footage, interviews with her children Marlon (an executive producer) and Angela, and close friends such as Prince Stanislas Klossowskide Rola and a voiceover from Tony Award-winning actress Scarlett Johansson as Pallenberg (based on an unpublished memoir), we hear confirmation of her myriad issues (she died in 2017 at age 75 from hepatitis C complications) with all that surrounded her life: drugs, music and hangers-on with a strong mindset that set her apart from the usual groupies and lackeys that believed the Rolling Stones owed them for services provided, legal and otherwise.

In many ways, the Stones owed much to her. As directors Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill peel back the mysterious layers of her character, we come to realize what first attracted guitarist Brian Jones to her. As a European native of German-Italian descent, Pallenberg exuded an exotic sexiness that made her irresistible. After an acting stint in New York City with Andy Warhol's Factory and various modeling gigs, she returned to Germany, and it was there that she met a young English band from London, playing in Munich in 1965. She was instantly smitten with Jones, describing him as "beautiful" and "charismatic."

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Source: Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Pallenberg and Jones, the twin models of psychedelia.

The pair were soon inseparable, compatible with clothing, attitude and similar hairstyles. While Pallenberg continued acting, appearing in A Degree of Murder, Barbarella and Candy, her relationship with Jones started to turn ugly. Amidst the massive amounts of acid and alcohol being consumed in the Stones' orbit, coupled with Jones' intense jealousy and violence towards her, it was during a 1967 trip to Moroco that Pallenberg ended her toxic connection with Jones. As he was left hospitalized, she left with Keith Richards to start over.

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Source: © ABKCO Films/YouTube

Sympathy For The Devil 4K - Film Clip: The Whoo-Whoo's | ABKCO Films

As we learn from contemporary interviews and vintage videos that put the viewer in the action, Pallenberg provided a modicum of stability for Richards within the circus atmosphere that was called the Rolling Stones. After Jones' accidental drowning in 1969, Pallenberg and Richards became the undisputed king and queen of the gypsy lifestyle in the Stones circle. With a filmed interview from actor Jake Weber, we understand her motherly connection and softer side, even as Weber's father was the band's drug dealer, taking him and his brother to Villa Nellcote in France to hang with the Stones during the recording of Exile On Main Street.

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Source: Kent Gavin/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Richards and Pallenberg with son Marlon on the grounds of Villa Nellcote.

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But with the previous birth of her son Marlon in 1969 and then daughter Angela in 1972, Pallenberg's lifestyle began to change. Richards roamed the world on tour while Pallenberg stayed put in Geneva with the children. Although ski trips in the Alps are fond memories for Marlon, Pallenberg's pregnancy and birth of son Tara in 1976 was the turning point in many ways. The baby died of SIDS while Richards was away and his mother declared Pallenberg unfit as a mother, taking Angela to live with her. Amidst the heartbreak of losing their son, Pallenberg spiraled down faster after a move to South Salem, New York.

Source: ℗ © BMG/The Rolling Stones/YouTube

The Rolling Stones - Hot Stuff - OFFICIAL PROMO - 1976

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While their infamous 1977 heroin trafficking bust in Toronto drove a further wedge between them, it was during the summer of 1979 that the final screw turned. Marlon Richards recalls being dropped off at his bus stop from summer school and discovering that a boyfriend of Pallenberg's, 19-year-old Scott Cantrell, had shot himself in the head in their house, the victim of a Russian roulette challenge. That, coupled with Pallenberg's heroin addiction, was the final goodbye for both Richards and Pallenberg. They split for good in 1980.

Source: Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg - Official Trailer | Scarlett Johansson, Rolling Stones

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In the ensuing years, Pallenberg did clean up her act and encountered a new generation of admirers in the fashion industry. She befriended model Kate Moss (who speaks lovingly of Pallenberg in the film) and returned to education, earning a fashion and textile degree from Central Saint Martins in London in 1994. She remained a vital force right up to the end of her life, and as Richards' voice remarks, "Anita is in a lot of those songs. She’s a muse, I’m sure. And not just for me."

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, directed by Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill, featuring Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Anita Pallenberg, opens in the U.S. on May 3 and in the U.K. on May 17.


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