In the remarkable new cut of the Rolling Stones documentary " Charlie Is My Darling -- Ireland 1965," which premiered at the New York Film Festival last month, a 22-year-old Mick Jagger ponders the staying power of his generation's peace/love/liberation/rebellion ethos. He says, "It's not until the people of 21 now have reached the age of 75 -- those kids actually have to be grandfathers before the whole thing is changed."
It may be time for that reckoning. Those 21 year olds aren't quite 75, but some are well on their way to becoming great-grandparents; even the screaming tweens who fueled early Stones-mania are sexagenarians.
When 21-year-old Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham commissioned Peter Whitehead to film the band during a September '65 weekend swing through Belfast and Dublin, no one could have foreseen the profound resonances of Charlie, which has been painstakingly restored and reedited into a sharp, coherent gem by producer Robin Klein and director Mick Gochanour. With time on its side, Charlie has become more of a historic document than a cool documentary.
The music alone makes the film's viewing a must. Exuberant performances of "Last Time," "Time Is On My Side," "Pain In My Heart" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" remind us that these tunes can sound fresh even though we've heard them hundreds of times. A killer performance of Bo Diddley's "It's Alright" brings home the fact that, contrary to what many of us assumed at the time, most of the tracks that first hooked us on the Stones were penned not by Jagger and Richards but by Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, Rufus Thomas and other bluesmasters.
The film's climax is the first recorded concert performance of the smash of the summer of '65, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." In a few minutes of ecstatic frustration, the Stones define the musical/cultural moment and take their rightful place as the world's greatest rock & roll band, except perhaps for the Beatles.
There's plenty of Hard Day's Night-ish cavorting by the Stones-plus-Oldham to sit back and enjoy, but attention to detail yields its own rewards. In one scene, drummer Charlie Watts (the film's namesake) carries The Angry Young Them, a record released earlier in '65 which, as Iggy Pop reveals in Jeff Gold's forthcoming book 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl From The Beatles to The Sex Pistols, was the template for the Stooges. At another moment, we see bassist Bill Wyman holding a copy of Life magazine with an image from the Watts Riots on the cover. And when Brian Jones -- the musical genius who founded the Stones -- is tackled by a fan-gone-wild during the chaotic melee that ends the Belfast show, visions of mosh-pit uprisings pogo through our heads along with echoes of Altamont.
A marvelous hotel room scene finds Jagger and Richards (whose acoustic guitar might as well be part of his body) goofing around with the Beatles' "Eight Days A Week," "I Feel Fine" and "I've Just Seen A Face" while working out their own song "Sittin' On A Fence," whose folkie intro on the 1967 Flowers album channels a phrase from "Face."
Near the film's end, Jones -- whose dark detour over the next four years (a pop-culture eternity) led to his ouster from the band and his mysterious death shortly thereafter -- says, "I've always been a little apprehensive about the future." Gathering no moss with Mick, Keith, Bill and Charlie on the road to geezerville is a bittersweet ride. This ghostly message from the eternally young Jones is just chilling.
Oldham, whose current activities include a terrific radio program on Steve Van Zandt's Underground Garage, is happy to have waited all this time for Charlie's release. "ABKCO worked on the project for over 20 years, gathering and cleaning up film, locating sound from other sources," he told me. "I am glad the process took this long because the technical results are superb and the social and musical resonance could not have a better moment than now." ABKCO will also put out the film in Super Deluxe Box Set, Blu-ray and DVD, with bonuses including the never officially released director's and producer's cuts.
Oldham adds that at the time the film was shot, no one had a clue what the future had in store for the Stones: "There were only questions: Will they or won't they? Are they or are they not? And what are they?"
Mick's musings on the revolutionary spirit of young people circa 1965 were soon followed by the dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War, massive civil unrest, widespread drug use and a plethora of musical riches that would not have been possible without the Stones.
The Stones have just released a new single, "Gloom And Doom." It's no match for anything on Charlie Is My Darling, but can serve as a bookend as we ponder Mick's challenge. Does the '60s generation get "Satisfaction" from changing the world and holding on to at least some of our idealism? Or have we turned into grasping consumers satisfied to hear the Stones mostly via TV commercials for watches and computer software?