Technically speaking – at the very least – the current Rolling Stones film At the Max is the biggest concert movie ever made.
"The amazing thing is that At the Max isn't just a pale imitation of a rock concert experience," says filmmaker Julien Temple, who served as creative consultant and location director for the project, which utilizes the IMAX film process. "In many ways, this movie is even better than the concert experience."
In the case of IMAX, better is bigger – IMAX uses the largest film frame in motion-picture history, ten times larger than the standard 35-mm film and three times larger than 70-mm film. The result is that when Mick Jagger prances across the approximately eighty-five-by-fifty-four-foot screen, he appears to be nearly six stories tall. According to Temple: "The IMAX process actually immerses you into the personalities who are onstage. And if you're going to be immersed in a rock band, this is definitely the band that you'd want to be immersed in." As a rave review in Variety noted, "The future of concert films is here and its name is IMAX."
At the Max was shot over five nights of the last leg of the Rolling Stones' wildly successful Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour in the summer of 1990. Edited to re-create the feel of a single complete performance, the ninety-minute movie, which includes an intermission, is the first full-length feature film shot in the IMAX format. The movie came as the result of discussions between the band and Michael Cohl, the president of the BCL Entertainment Group, which promoted the tour.
"We had many talks about how to document this tour," says Cohl, "but the approach never seemed quite right." Cohl had seen an IMAX film years earlier and had a brainstorm. A little more than two years ago, he and André Picard, vice-president of the IMAX Corporation film division, started discussions. Eventually, the pair became the executive producers of At the Max, which cost $10 million to make. "It made sense to try this," says Cohl, "because the Stones are one of the only bands big enough to carry this off."
"Among other things, this film is a way of showing that IMAX is worth paying attention to for all sorts of projects," says Picard. Indeed, Temple for one says he is eager to work in the medium again."I'd love to shoot someone like Frank Sinatra," he says. "It's a monumental way to see something onscreen, so it's a perfect way to document someone who's already monumental.''
At the Max may tell how economically viable IMAX is for this sort of project. One obvious limitation is that IMAX can only be shown in specially equipped theaters – there are currently seventy-nine permanent IMAX theaters in fifteen countries, many of which are located in museums, amusement parks and other nontraditional venues (thirteen more permanent theaters are expected to open by the end of 1992). Some venues – including the Beacon Theater, in New York City – have been temporarily outfitted for IMAX in order to show At the Max.
Asked if At the Max can turn a profit considering such limitations, Cohl says: "I hope so. It's definitely one of the reasons we made it. So far the response has exceeded our expectations." Tickets for At the Max are fifteen dollars, and concert merchandise is being sold at showings.
"The history of film is marked by innovations such as this," says Picard. "People questioned sound in motion pictures and whether color was important. We know we're onto something here."
This story is from the January 9th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.