Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Rolling Stones - "Charlie Is My Darling: Ireland 1965"

Wha-a-at? An unseen documentary about the Stones with Brian? Yes, please!

Sure, there's The TAMI Show, but who wants to sit through Jan and Dean, not to mention Freddie and the Dreamers, to see the Stones (and JB) burn the house down? Now there's an alternative.

Stones Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham commissioned filmmaker Peter Whitehead to shoot Charlie Is My Darling during a short (two dates!) tour of Ireland in '65, when the Stones were hitting their first peak with "Satisfaction." Viewed today in its restored configuration, it's a revelation. If it had been released when it was new, one thinks, it would have wiped the floor with the Beatles' films, with its human-scale portrait of its subjects at a crucial juncture in their career's trajectory. But then, watching the director's and producer's cuts that are included on the DVD, one realizes that the real hero of this project (besides the restorers, who did yeoman work in fixing over 50 reels of grainy, damaged film) is editor Nathan Punwar. His work on the restored version makes both earlier edits seem clumsy and amateurish.

Besides restoring yards of ace performance and backstage footage that originally wound up on the cutting room floor, Punwar has vastly improved the film's rhythm, flow, and pacing, better integrating the interview and concert footage into a coherent narrative flow (travel, fan interaction, backstage, performance, etc.) and dispensing with dated "arty" effects from the earlier versions. Punwar and 2012 director Mick Gochanour have done modern-day fans a tremendous service by placing more of the film's focus on music and performance. When a live performance of "The Last Time" explodes across the screen, you get a better feel for the early Stones' purity of essence than is possible from any previously existing representation.

Much of the film's resonance comes from context: We know what happens in the future. Thus, Brian Jones' remark that "the future as a Rolling very uncertain" takes on a poignancy in light of his death in 1969, and his comments on success strike a very different chord for viewers who've read Keith Richards' Life than they would have back in the mid-'60s.

The pandemonium of a live show, where fans crash the Stones' stage in the middle of "I'm Alright" -- the song's apex of excitement giving way to chaos and terrifying violence -- and the aftermath, with a fan being carried from the hall on a stretcher, anticipates the Altamont murder scenes in Gimme Shelter. The post-show comments from Bill Wyman and Mick Jagger are a harbinger of the mute horror the '69 Stones would display, watching the Maysles brothers' rushes. Director Gochenaur chooses to present the events with naturalistic audio, eschewing the corny echo effects that were added in both the director's and producer's cuts, providing a much better representation of the sound of things coming apart. And the climactic, uninterrupted "Satisfaction" is appropriately cathartic.

In interviews, Charlie and Bill are appropriately humble, while the future Sir Mick waxes eloquent on success, popular music, performance, and youth culture. "It's not until people that are 21 now reach 75," he says. "Those people have to be grandfathers before the whole thing is changed." Almost there, man. He poses for pictures with someone's family, and flirts with middle-aged gawkers while the Stones eat a restaurant meal.

Keef never speaks to the camera, but he's aways around, playing: strumming an acoustic in the hotel room, demonstrating his facility as a folk-blues picker, writing "Sitting On A Fence" with Mick, goofing on the Beatles (and themselves, Mick singing their first original "Tell Me"), playing the piano while Mick and Andrew Loog Oldham get drunk and goof on Elvis, singing some bit of music hall tripe on the train with Oldham. (Remember Nick Hornby's observation that the major difference between Brit rockers of the '60s and their American counterparts was that the Brits liked their parents better.) It's his music that binds the film together, and I suppose, has held them (well, Mick, Keef, and Charlie, anyway) together for 50 years.

Makes me want to reach for The Rolling Stones, Now!


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