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 ...

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film - DON­ALD CLARKE

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.

Jag­ger and

friend in Per­for­mance

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