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Movie Bio of Rolling Stones’ Muse Anita Pallenberg is as Extraordinary as the Subject

By Camilla Saly

“It gets so dark that it almost doesn’t feel like you can come back from how dark it was, and it’s incredible that she did.”

– Svetlana Zill, Director, Catching Fire: the Story of Anita Pallenberg

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg is a film chronicling the extraordinary life of the woman whose devil-may-care attitude, intelligence and style taught the Rolling Stones how to be, well… the Rolling Stones. Originally the paramour of founding member Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg became the long-time girlfriend of Keith Richards, and her charisma and influence on Rock’n’Roll is legendary. 

I was 13 years old when I first saw Performance, a film starring Pallenberg, and there I first laid eyes on her: Anita--rock goddess, vixen witch, pied piper of decadence and lust who enchanted me, along with her jumble of Rolling Stones rockers, hangers on, and hedonists of all types--I followed her lead into a life best expressed by the poet William Blake, who wrote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Marlon, Keith Richards’ and Anita Pallenberg’s son, brought the idea for Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg to Directors Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill. He told them, “Someone should make a film about my mum.” The filmmakers read Anita’s diary, and through Marlon they had access to materials that would have otherwise been impossible to access. “We had all of that unseen home movie, and the family album, and you know you’re going to start there,” Bloom explained.

Pallenberg had a distinctive European accent, yet the filmmakers decided to use American actress Scarlett Johansen as the voice of Anita. “You always make these pie-in-the-sky lists of like, ‘if you could get anyone, you’d get this person,’” Zill said, “…and she ended up agreeing to do the film, which was great.”

I asked them, “Why Johansen?” Before seeing the film I had wondered at the choice, but after viewing it I told them I was pleasantly surprised that it worked. “I’m glad to hear you actually came around to that,” Zill responded. “It’s an understandable initial reaction for someone who’s super familiar with Anita who was decidedly European, and had this very distinct pan-European German-Italian accent. We tried with a few different actors to do more of an imitation of her voice. It just felt like we were chasing this illusive accent rather than thinking about a voice that was going to embody Anita as a three-dimensional human being, and that would have the kind of weight, and gravitas, and believability in her intelligence, and her sex appeal, and her knowingness–and her allure.” 

Pallenberg’s decadent life had a happy ending. Without spilling the beans about the depth to which her life descended – you’ll have to see the film for that - it’s heartening to know that after such adventures you can emerge, I won’t say unscathed, but perhaps healed. 

Pallenberg spent her later years gardening, living in “a really nice, comfortable, very stylish apartment in Chelsea [in London] by the river,” where, according to Bloom, “She was a wicked great gardener. She was into the freedom of being outside.” You were outside the norm in every way, Anita - and we’re grateful for it.  

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg premiers May 3rd at IFC in Manhattan, in Asbury Park, NJ on May 4th and in Rhinebeck, NY on May 19th. It will show at the New Art theatre in Los Angeles on May 10th, and will premier in London on May 17th. The film is also available starting on May 3rd through Video-On-Demand on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms. 


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