Peter Whitehead’s cinema verité rock doc “Charlie Is My Darling” captures the Rolling Stones at a crucial moment in their evolution, in the late Summer of 1965, playing a short tour of Ireland before flying back to the States, where “Satisfaction,” their latest single, has just hit number one on the charts. Completed as a half-hour short by Whitehead, then re-edited to 45 minutes by Stones manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham to include more footage of the band on stage, and less of Brian Jones; The band’s founder, Jones would be dead within four years, and was already being eclipsed by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, who had emerged as the band’s principal songwriters. “The future as a Rolling Stone is very uncertain,” Jones admits. And he was right.
The restored 2012 version of “Charlie Is My Darling” expands the film to a more feature-length 63 minutes, honoring Whitehead’s original vision, while adding more fly-on-the-wall footage of various behind the scenes shenanigans, and some truly great full-length performances. The black and white cinematography looks great, and the soundtrack has been remixed and remastered for maximum impact.
The result is the snotty kid brother to “Gimme Shelter,” depicting the madness of the time in much the same way as the Maysles Brothers’ 1970 documentary, capturing brilliantly the energy and charisma of the band in its young prime. For viewers who only know the Stones as superannuated gargoyles, it will be a revelation that Keith Richards was once this youthful. Even his teeth look healthy, in stark contrast to the rotting fangs on display in “Gimme Shelter.’
There is a bit too much of Oldham’s “Hey, the cameras are rolling, better make something happen, boys” acting out. During one hotel room jam, while Mick and Keith play “Tell Me,” Oldham taps along beatlessly until Charlie Watts gets fed up and metronomically falls in on the beat, using a cigarette lighter and his fist, and Andrew stops tapping, shut down at last.
Proper credit must be given to Oldham for making this restoration possible, and for his massive role in shaping the Stones’ bad boy mythos. He can currently be heard on Sirius/XM’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel.
Whether some of the backstage bits and life on the road footage will be fascinating or tedious depends on the viewer’s interest in the Stones, but this reviewer, who had only seen a bootleg version of the film 25 years earlier, found it most compelling. While “Charlie Is My Darling” doesn’t have the narrative thrust of “Gimme Shelter,” it is an important cultural artifact as well.
An artifact that rocks.
“Charlie Is My Darling” is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Blu-Ray/DVD/CD/LP box set, which is the one for longtime fans to get, as it includes a disc of previously unreleased (and totally boss) live recordings.
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J.M. Dobies, Austin Classic Movies Examiner Facebook Page