Changing Times and Rolling Stones

Posted by Caitlin Hughes on 10.10.2012


The Rolling Stones – Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland '65

A rock band present for five decades, The Rolling Stones have obviously seen their fair share of social change. Even in the short amount of time between the filmling of two documentaries about them—The Rolling Stones – Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland '65 (filmed in 1965) and Gimme Shelter (1969)—the "peace, love and understanding" ideologies of 1960s hippie culture became perverted by excess drug use, and proved to be an unequal match for certain brute forces.

Screening in the Masterworks section of the 50th New York Film Festival, Charlie Is My Darling finds the Stones at a very early point in their career, as they performed "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" in public for the first time and their fans still sported mod, flipped hairstyles. Over the next four years, the Stones morphed from teen idols to full-on rock gods. The Maysles' Gimme Shelter depicts droves of fans making their way to the Altamont raceway near San Francisco to see their free concert, at which a member of the Hell’s Angels lethally stabbed a concertgoer. Each film is emblematic of major turning points in the Stones’ career and also in history.

The footage from Charlie Is My Darling (the title is taken from a girl naming drummer Charlie Watts as her favorite) wasn’t initially supposed to be a documentary at all—the then-nascent band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, simply wanted the boys to get used to having a camera around and commissioned documentarian Peter Whitehead to film them. The end result, fascinatingly, is the Stones seemingly unaware of being filmed. They convey a boyish innocence when jamming together during lunch breaks or when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards show off their dueling Elvis impressions. Whitehead’s film became a 35-minute short, depicting the band clowning around over the course of their two-day Ireland tour. Recently, filmmakers Mick Gochanour and Robin Klein were asked to restore the documentary, adding extra footage that was thought to be lost. They maintained the youthful vivacity of the Stones from Whitehead’s version, and added history-making concert footage, like that first performance of "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction."


The Rolling Stones – Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland '65

One of the major changes over the four years between the films was the growing intensity of the youth drug culture. While drugs were obviously consumed by the band and their early audiences alike, drugs are never even alluded to in Charlie Is My Darling. The band openly drinks alcohol on camera and horses around, but that's about as salacious as it gets—by comparison, Jagger emerges totally stoned from a trailer at Altamont in Gimme Shelter. The close-ups of the crowds show a bunch of extremely excited, yet clear-eyed kids. Jagger tries to make sense of the changing youth culture, one that disavows the rigidity of the outgoing generation in favor of a more peaceful ideology. He says: "The kids are looking for something else, some different moral value." The hippie culture depicted in Charlie Is My Darling still offered the hope for a positive social change.

Gimme Shelter, on the other hand, depicts the drug culture in 1969 San Francisco as the stuff of nightmares. The supposedly gentle hippies are transformed (perhaps, in part, by the Maysles) into mindless, seizing monsters. At one point, the camera lingers for quite some time on a young man convulsing from having taken too much acid. People wander around naked and in a haze, or sob without reason. Obviously, it’s difficult to directly juxtapose the crowds at a San Francisco raceway to a theater in Ireland (especially considering the effects of the Vietnam War), but nevertheless, drug usage is referenced directly in Gimme Shelter and was likely a contributing factor to the horrific stabbing that later occurs during the filming.

An obvious casualty of the burgeoning drug culture was Stones member Brian Jones, who had died earlier in 1969, before Gimme Shelter was filmed. In Charlie Is My Darling, however, Jones looks downright wholesome, fooling around with his bandmates and answering the documentarian's questions thoughtfully and intelligently. When asked what his plans would have been for the future if he weren’t in the band, he said he might have wanted to try his hand at filmmaking, but counters that with: "I’ve always been a little apprehensive about the future.” In documenting the Stones so early in their careers, Charlie Is My Darling is an almost eerie glimpse at a time before the drug culture caught up to them, not in the amusingly debauched legend of Keith Richards, but in the tragic loss of Jones, the band’s founding member.

 
Gimme Shelter

Charlie Is My Darling and Gimme Shelter are also indicative of stylistic changes of the Stones in response to the times surrounding them. Charlie Is My Darling is especially historic, music-wise, as it captures the first public performance of their emblematic hit "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." Prior to "Satisfaction," their singles were more entrenched in blues and classic rock, like "The Last Time" and "Time Is On My Side."

In Charlie Is My Darling, the Stones wore rather straight-laced performance-wear (light-colored shirts and trousers)—these getups underwent quite a radical change by Gimme Shelter, throughout which Jagger sports spandex shirts and an Uncle Sam hat and cape. The performative nature of their concerts is truly cemented by 1969, with Jagger’s sexualized strut in hyper gear, and their songs offer much more subversive themes. 1968/69 brought forth their iconic single "Sympathy for the Devil," which is featured in Gimme Shelter as the crowd beneath them freaks out.

While no one got stabbed during Charlie Is My Darling, the crowds were not exactly passive and police force had to sometimes be used. In the beginning of the film, the Stones are at the airport and a pack of relatively prim-looking teenage girls surround Richards and pluck hairs out of his head. This act is definitely a huge invasion into Keith’s personal space but it’s done with a youthful glee that is hardly loathsome.


The Rolling Stones – Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland '65

Things definitely increase in intensity, though. As the Stones perform, several members of the audience storm the stage and begin to vandalize their instruments—police intervene and the band is ushered out of the theater. When asked about the incident at a press conference later in the film, the Stones are relatively unphased. Jones says that the worst incident they have experienced so far involved the roof of their car being smashed in by fans. In the film, Jagger earnestly attempts to analyze the skewed thought process of the crowd: "A crowd always seems to make violence because the people on the periphery are trying to get into the middle."

In Gimme Shelter, however, the Maysles filmed the Stones watching footage of the Altamont concert and of the stabbing that took place. In general, their reaction is similar to the one they had Charlie Is My Darling during the crowd situations—when people rushed the stage, they kept on playing and let security handle everything. Jagger did have to tell the crowd to cool out many times, however. When the stabbing occurred, the band had no idea what had happened and went on playing. Watching the footage back, however, they were all horrified and disgusted at what had transpired. Ironically, earlier in the film Jagger says about the free concert: "It’s creating a sort of microcosmic society which sets an example to the rest of America, and how one can behave in large gatherings."

At the end of Gimme Shelter, Jagger watches the footage of the stabbing, and when it is over, he gets up and stares into the camera, his eyes looking angry and spent. Though only four years had passed since the filming of Charlie is My Darling, they clearly lived in very different times. Drugs and Vietnam had quickly degenerated the youth of the the 60s, and pop culture had moved along with the changing tide.

The Rolling Stones – Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland '65 has its final New York Film Festival screening October 11 at 1:15pm.

Caitlin Hughes is a member of the NYFF Critics Academy program. You can follow her on Twitter at @C_B_Hughes.

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