It might be hard to believe as much after all this time, but in 1965, the Rolling Stones were a positively incendiary band whose performances routinely incited riots. The Stones looked and sounded dangerous, and as Whitehead's film makes plain, the kids themselves were exploding with contradictory emotions that spilled over into hysterical crying jags, Beatlemania-level screaming fits, and a form of adulation that didn't seem to be able to make up its mind between expressions of love and violence.
Whitehead blends interviews with live footage of the Irish shows -- stunning, particularly on the first night, when the band manages to get through only a handful of tunes before the stage is simply taken over by fans, who attack with vigor. It's mass hysteria, a blend of sexual awakenings among the fans, and the desire on their part to overthrow the tired values of their elders -- a revolution of sex, liberty and personal possibility, then, and one that would come to define the decade within a few years.
Particularly chilling is the film-opening interview with the late Brian Jones, who already looks weary, nervous and worn-out by 1965. "Let's face it," Jones says, staring straight into the camera's lens. "The future as a Rolling Stone is very uncertain." Within a few years, Jones would be unceremoniously dumped from the band. He'd end up dead at the bottom of his own swimming pool before reaching his 30th birthday.
The rest of the interviews reveal Jagger as a thoughtful young man clearly in tune -- and perhaps somewhat frightened by -- the sexual energy of his performances, and their effect on his audience; drummer Charlie Watts as the somewhat bemused "normal guy" in the band, unfazed by all of it, and wishing he could go home to be with his wife, read books and listen to records; and bassist Bill Wyman, who seems to be (mostly) enjoying all of it, pinching himself, and relieved that he'd been able to actualize his childhood dream of becoming a professional musician.
Sadly, Richards was never interviewed in a one-on-one format for the film.
The new cut of "Charlie Is My Darling" looks and sounds excellent, particularly considering how much recording technology has evolved since 1965. This is it, then -- the Holy Grail of Stones films documenting their first days as "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world."
Equally fascinating is "Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Stones," an HBO film by director Brett Morgen which chronicles the band's first decade.
Gone is the wide-eyed innocence of the Whitehead film, as "Crossfire Hurricane" begins in 1972, with Jagger snorting cocaine off a knife blade before heading out onto the stage. This is the Stones in full-on decadence mode. The drugs have moved in; the darkness that was once merely hinted at with bleary eyes and an on-stage thrust of the hips from Jagger has become a deep hedonistic night.
Morgen moves backward from this opening montage, tracing the band's development from cover band to "voice of a generation" to rolling pharmaceutical company, aided by audio-only present-day interviews with the surviving Stones. It's both a disturbing and a fascinating film, one that makes no attempt to frame the band in flattering light, but instead offers a warts, drugs 'n' all view into the band's evolution.
So there you go. Even if you live in a different tax bracket than many of the folks who will catch a 50th Anniversary Rolling Stones concert this year, there's still plenty for you to indulge in.
And they keep on rolling...
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