What To Expect From the Telling Documentary 'Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge'

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Rolling Stone co-founder and publisher Jann Wenner, left, director Blair Foster and director Alex Gibney attend the premiere of Rolling Stone: Stories From The Edge at Florence Gould Hall on Oct. 30, 2017 in New York City. 

The two-part documentary will debut Nov. 6 and 7 on HBO.

A storyteller himself, founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, now finds himself as the subject of a new two-part HBO documentary titled Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge.

The first part of the documentary premiered on Oct. 30 at New York City’s Florence Gould Hall, with Jann and his son Gus in attendance. A handful of Rolling Stone writers, such as political journalist Matt Taibbi and cultural critic Toure were also present for the world premiere, as were famous friends like Art Garfunkel, actor Danny Strong and others.

The documentary -- directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney and Emmy-winner Blair Foster, who have previously worked together on Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise Of James Brown and other titles-- opens with Jimi Hendrix performing “Like A Rolling Stone” at Monterey Pop Festival. The music fades as footage of Hendrix famously setting his guitar aflame plays onscreen, while a narrator’s voice begins reading the first-ever Letter From the Editor from Issue 1, Volume 1, dated Nov. 9, 1967. “It’s sort of a magazine, sort of a newspaper,” Jann described Rolling Stone in the letter, “about things and attitudes music embraces.”

Jann’s vision to cover the bigger picture of music is what Foster, a self-identified “archivist nerd,” says surprised her most while conducting her research. “I was surprised at how very early on the magazine went beyond covering music,” she told Billboard on the red carpet ahead of the screening. “From the start -- it obviously developed into a music magazine -- but very early on they were covering the art scene in the Bay Area and politics. I didn’t think that came until a little bit later, but really you see it within the first year of the magazine. The first year of the magazine is actually not that far from where it is now, it’s in the DNA.”

Throughout part one of the documentary, notable Rolling Stone cover stories served as visual chapters, signaling both the passage of time while also illustrating how exactly the magazine covered culture, politics, music and more. The film revisits some of its most iconic and groundbreaking stories: an inside look at Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship, Hunter S. Thompson’s wild political reporting during the 1972 presidential election, Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and later arrest, and so much more.

The most compelling arch, though, is the story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The documentary includes the couple’s first Rolling Stone cover from November of 1968, when the magazine ran Lennon and Ono’s Two Virgins rear album cover that showed off their bare-butts, and their last cover -- the intimately captured photo of a nude Lennon clinging to a fully-dressed Ono as they lay on their carpeted floor. The photo, taken by Annie Leibovitz (“my years at Rolling Stone formed me,” she says in the documentary), ended up being Lennon’s last. He was shot later that day. His final photo later graced the cover of the magazine. The striking image closes out part one of the documentary.

After so tediously studying the past 50 years of Rolling Stone, Gibney now finds himself thinking about the magazine’s next 50, as unclear as they may be. “The next 50 years is fraught for all journalistic enterprises, particularly if you’re print based, and that’s going to be the challenge going forward,” he says. He admits that “hard-hitting, tough-minded investigative journalism is needed now more than ever,” and most succinctly defines what’s to come by comparing the future to a Magic 8-Ball: “You’d shake it, turn it over, and it’d say, ‘Reply hazy, try again.’”