By Eleanor Laurence
What Rolling Stone Brings to 50 Years of Journalism
At the red carpet premiere of their documentary Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge, directors Alex Gibney and Blair Foster discuss their personal attachment to the publication, the magazine’s unique voice and why its special brand of journalism is essential today.
HBO: Beyond the magazine hitting its 50th anniversary, why is Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge an important story to tell now?
Alex Gibney: We’re at a critical moment in our culture, in terms of a need for good, in-depth, opinionated journalism. Celebrating the magazine — what the magazine’s done over the past 50 years — is a way of saying this is important.
Blair Foster: I think a lot of younger people don’t realize and appreciate what Rolling Stone has done; what it’s contributed to journalism. They do great articles about musicians, but it’s not just about musicians. I think it’s key right now for the younger generation to appreciate journalism in general.
HBO: What drew you to the magazine as a cultural object and documentary subject?
Alex Gibney: In some of the films I’ve worked on, I’ve tried to take a lead from what Rolling Stone does. That is to say, to make authored films that are honest about saying something I think, yet at the same time are rigorous in their journalism — and hopefully funny, and entertaining, and full of music. That kind of vitality, that’s what first turned me on about the magazine, back when I was just reading it for the rock and roll interviews.
Blair Foster: For me, it combined all the things I love — music, politics and popular culture — in a way that you can’t find anywhere else.
HBO: To your mind, what is unique about Rolling Stone journalism?
Alex Gibney: It’s suddenly combining the investigative piece with the novel. For example, Hunter Thompson [author and Rolling Stone writer] was a novelist working inside the skin of the journalist, and yet at the same time taking his reporting very seriously. If you read him carefully, he’s telling you what he’s observing, but he’s taking you into fictional territory to depict things in a more accurate way than some kind of literal description.
HBO: More broadly, how do you go about selecting the topics you’ll pursue as documentary filmmakers?
Alex Gibney: Finding somebody who will pay. [Laughs] No, it’s not that simple.
Whenever you do a film, you have to be invested enough to know that you’re going to live with it for the next 18 to 24 to 48 months, depending. So it’s that kind of commitment. And finding stories that justify that kind of commitment.
Blair Foster: I’ve been fortunate to work on two kinds of projects: music documentaries — which has been a great exploration beyond the musician to what comes around the musician — and the more serious films that Alex does, like Taxi to the Dark Side. It’s exploring culture and the political scene in different ways. There’s a lot there. These days, there’s no shortage of interesting topics for documentary filmmakers.
Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge Part I premieres November 6 on HBO.