Anita Pallenberg died in 2017 at age 75, but her life as an actress and a muse to the Rolling Stones lives on in a sensational new documentary called “Anita.” It’s directed by Alexis Bloom and Svetana Zill. “Anita” premiered in Cannes on Monday night.
Bloom is not a newcomer to touching biographies. She and husband Fisher Stevens made a wonderful film about Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, called “Bright Lights” in 2016 which also screened in Cannes. Pallenberg’s name may ring with meaning for fans of the Rolling Stones. She’s thought of primarily as the mother of three of Keith Richards’ children, although the third, Tara, died a crib death. Their son, Marlon, and daughter, Angela, take part in the film, as does Richards. Marianne Faithfull is featured as well.
The big foundation for this film is a recently discovered partial manuscript of a memoir found among Anita’s things. This was a revelation since Pallenberg had always sworn she’d never write a book. So Zill and Bloom enlisted Scarlett Johansson to read parts of the book so the film is told in the first person, interspersed with interviews and never before seen home movies. Johansson’s voice reflects Pallenberg’s rock and roll attitude but also her warmth.
As a rock and roll souvenir, “Anita” stands on its own and must be seen. Pallenberg’s story is a missing piece of the Rolling Stones puzzle. Originally she was Brian Jones’ girlfriend for two years, from 1965 to 1967. Then she partnered up with Keith and their relationship lasted until 1980.
German and Italian, she was a hot young actress in the early 70s. But she loved the rock and roll life. Her influence on the Stones was huge. She even sang back up on “Sympathy for the Devil.” Zill and Bloom are very adept weaving Anita’s story through the Stones’ to get a full appreciation how she was almost a counterbalance to Faithfull in the development of the Stones’ career. (It’s 2023 and they’re putting the finishing touches on a new album, so this is important.)
Among the movies she appeared in: “Barbarella,” (although her voice was dubbed) and a Stones documentary in 1968 from Jean Luc Godard. Pallenberg made her way through the 60s not only as an adjunct to Richards but as a favorite of Andy Warhol. She was a real “It girl.”
Unfortunately, a lot of what people remember is a tragic death of a 17 year old teenager named Scott Cantrell. He killed himself with a handgun in Richards and Pallenberg’s bed at their home in South Salem, New York. Keith wasn’t home, and there may have been a sexual relationship. Ultimately, the death was ruled a suicide. But it brought an end to their common law marriage, and created more mythology around the Stones’ rock and roll life.
What Zill and Bloom do is set Anita’s story straight, and through her own words and interviews with others humanize Pallenberg forever. It’s a job well done. Here’s hoping a good distributor feels the same way.