40 years of performance
The Stones – through soundtracks and documentaries – have created a fine cinematic legacy. If only Keith hadn’t appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean ...
HANG ON. Is the young Keith Richards wearing a CIÉ hat in Shine a Light? Indeed he is. The archive footage of Keith sporting said headgear is extracted from Peter Whitehead’s near-legendary Stones documentary, Charlie Is My Darling.
Filmed in Ireland during the Stones’ visit in 1965, the picture features Mick playing with Corkonian scamps, Charlie actually talking and the inevitable interview with a bemused priest.
Sadly, Charlie Is My Darling is not currently available through authorised sources (hem hem!), but fans are hardly deprived of films featuring their heroes. Classic movie moments featuring the boys’ great tunes are too numerous to summarise – indeed, one could write a book on the use of Stones numbers in Scorsese films alone – and it would take a working day to view the various documentaries on the band.
The Stones never made a successful mainstream film like The Beatles’ durable A Hard Day’s Night. But their contribution to the cinema is, surely, significantly greater than that of their old rivals.
For all their innovation, the Liverpudlians always seemed part of the entertainment industry and, as a result, were of only limited interest to the era’s radical film-makers. By contrast, the Stones somehow managed to convince the world that, despite the conspicuous limousines and palatial piles, they remained a continuing danger to civilised society. Directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Hal Ashby, the Maysles brothers and, now, Martin Scorsese duly queued up to record their activities.
For all the virtues of Shine A Light (Stones as presidential jesters) or Ashby’s Let’s Spend the Night Together (the grisly yellow tracksuit version from the 1980s), it is the documentaries from the late 1960s and early 1970s that repay repeated viewing today.
Godard’s Sympathy For The Devil, a key document of 1968, is as fascinating as it is wilfully infuriating. You do get to see the band working their way through memorable numbers from the album Beggars Banquet, and there is unsettling evidence of Brian Jones’s increasing dislocation.
A less fussy approach is evident in 1969’s The Stones in the Park, which features that celebrated footage of Jagger eulogising the recently deceased Jones before a packed Hyde Park. “This is for Bwian,” Mick, dressed in a flouncy man-frock, tells the crowd.
If you can endure unfiltered Jethro Tull, then the celeb-heavy Rock and Roll Circus – Eric Clapton and John Lennon also turn up to jam – is worth a cursory glance.
The best Stones documentary of this era remains, however, Albert and David Maysles’s grim Gimme Shelter. The picture, an unhappy farewell to the peace-and-love epoch, features nascent incarnations of Wild Horses and some decent footage of The Flying Burrito Brothers, but remains most notable for its coverage of the murder that soured the notorious concert at Altamont Speedway. Listen carefully as Jagger examines footage of the brutal assault by Hells Angels and you can hear the noise of psychological shutters being pulled down.
The Stones did allow photographer Robert Frank to follow them around the US in 1972, but were so appalled by the resulting film, the primly titled Cocksucker Blues, that they suppressed its release.
As the decades progressed, the band and their lawyers became increasingly cautious. If Jagger appeared in a film he would, most likely, be walking through a fleeting cameo or chewing the scenery as a cartoon villain.
Memories of his performance in Freejack, a wretched sci-fi thriller from 1992, still cause film enthusiasts to wake up screaming. Keith Richards’s larksome appearance in the last Pirates of the Caribbean film was remarkable only for its eccentricity.
Still, Jagger did star in one of the greatest of all British movies. No, we’re not talking about Ned Kelly. Mick’s charismatic turn as a reclusive rock star in Nick Roeg’s and Donald Cammell’s mighty Performance (1970) can be set aside his very real anguish in Gimme Shelter to provide a composite perspective on the stinky underbelly of rock fame.
friend in Performance