On November 15, 2012, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City hosted a very rare public screening of the Rolling Stones documentary “Cocksucker Blues,” which was filmed during the Stones’ drug-fueled 1972 North American tour but never officially released due to its controversial content. “Cocksucker Blues” (directed by Robert Frank) has been bootlegged for decades, and a lot of the movie’s footage can be seen in the 2012 Rolling Stones documentary “Crossfire Hurricane.”
As previously reported, the MOMA screening of “Cocksucker Blues” was part of the the museum’s Rolling Stones retrospective “The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film,” which runs from November 15 and December 13, 2012. (Click here for tickets and more information.)
I was at the MOMA screening of “Cocksucker Blues” and I was not surprised to see that the show was sold out, because most of the people there (including myself) had never seen “Cocksucker Blues” in a movie theater. (This particular screening room has a capacity of about 400 people.) There was also a long line of about 50 to 75 people people in the stand-by queue who were hoping to score any tickets made available that evening, but almost all of them were out of luck because the cinema was already completely full while people were waiting in the stand-by line.
MOMA’s Department of Film associate curator Joshua Siegel made an introduction before the screening that the Rolling Stones did authorize this screening of “Cocksucker Blues,” and he thanked them for allowing it.
Many longtime Rolling Stones fans have already seen “Cocksucker Blues” but may be wondering how the sound quality was for this screening. It was surprisingly very good, because the original source (not a bootlegged copy) was shown at this screening. However, the improved sound quality of seeing it in a move theater still can’t salvage the film’s messy, all-over-the place tone and low-quality cinematography. “Cocksucker Blues” has some footage in black and white and some in color, but the amateurish ways that the cameras and editing are handled make this film unreleasable.
The only reasonable conclusion that any viewer can reach is the unfocused, substandard quality of the documentary is because that the filmmakers were as drugged-out as most of the Stones and their entourage were on this tour.
Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger gets the most screen time, followed closely by guitarist Keith Richards. Guitarist Mick Taylor and drummer Charlie Watts are treated as the supporting characters in a movie starring Jagger and Richards. Bass player Bill Wyman is hardly in the movie. Wyman has said in his memoirs and in many interviews that he was never into hard drugs (his vices were alcohol and promiscuous sex), so that may explain why he’s barely seen in “Cocksucker Blues,” which is the most drugged-out movie the Stones ever made.
Before “Cocksucker Blues” was shown at this screening, there was a rare five-minute silent, short film shown of the Rolling Stones in the United States in 1972 when they were filming the cover of “Exile on Main Street.” “Cocksucker Blues” director Robert shot this short film, which are basically outtakes from “Cocksucker Blues.” It looked like a patched-together home movie, and it wasn’t really that interesting, in case anyone thinks this short film might be a hidden treasure. It basically showed the Stones walking down some streets. And then for almost half the movie, it inexplicably cut to a homeless-looking man walking among cars on the street and wiping the car windows with a towel, whether the people in the cars wanted him to or not.
In case anyone hasn’t seen “Cocksucker Blues,” here is a summary. (Do not read further if you don’t want to read any spoilers.)
The sexual aspects of the movie are probably the most notorious. The most famous scene in “Cocksucker Blues” takes place on the Stones’ private jet: Roadies pull off the clothes of two groupies, as one of the roadies lifts a groupie up to his face. Jagger, Richards and Taylor are among the spectators, as they play percussion instruments and goad on the shenanigans.
Other “sex scenes” in the movie are:
On the private jet, a groupie is shown getting dressed with semen caked all over her backside. There’s a brief shot of a man and a woman intercourse, and another shot of the end of an act of fellatio, with the faces of the participants not shown.
Jagger (with his face not seen on camera) is shown with his hand down his pants and fondling himself.
In another scene, a completely naked, stoned groupie is shown sprawled out on a hotel bed, with her legs fully open and fondling herself.
Cocaine and heroin use is prevalent in the movie. Several people, including Jagger and writer Terry Southern, openly snort cocaine backstage. There’s another scene were Jagger is shown rolling up a money bill and about to snort cocaine, but the camera cuts away just about to snort.
Although Richards was a needle-using heroin addict during this period of time, the film never showed him shooting heroin, but he and several other people are seen nodding off plenty of times. A groupie and a guy in the Stones’ entourage are shown shooting heroin in a hotel room.
One of the more hilarious parts of the movie is in a hotel room, a motormouth junkie rambles about starting an organization for heroin enthusiasts, saying there will be “cultural programs set up” and that a federal grant has been requested to erect the Tomb of the Unknown Junkie that will be made out of “nothing but discarded spikes [slang for needles].”
During a road trip in the rural South, Jagger and Taylor are seen smoking marijuana, with Jagger saying how hungry he is shortly after inhaling. During the car ride, Jagger exclaims, “This is the most uninteresting drive in the world!” He then admits that he’s relieved to be away from the entourage from the private jet. Jagger also comments that the South has the best coffee shops and food in America.
In another scene, Taylor comes into a hotel room with two naked men and a naked women lying down on beds. Taylor makes a joke about looking for cocaine in the room but he seems self-conscious about doing cocaine on camera, so he settles for taking a drag off of a joint that’s offered to him.
The concert footage (which is in color) includes performances of “Brown Sugar,” “Midnight Rambler” and “Happy.” These are some of the best parts of the film, but fans are a better off watching the “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones” for a better document of the Rolling Stones in concert in 1972.
Stevie Wonder (who was the opening act on this tour) makes an appearance when he performs “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” with the Rolling Stones. (This footage is not on “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones.”)
There’s also some rehearsal footage of the band, as well as footage of a shirtless Jagger or shirtless Richards (both looking “under the influence”) jamming separately on a piano.
In addition to the Stones’ backup musicians (saxophonist Bobby Keys gets the most screen time off stage), these celebrities are also featured in the movie:
- Tina Turner (singer)
- Marshall Chess (the first president of Rolling Stones Records and a producer of “Cocksucker Blues”)
- Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records)
- Bianca Jagger (Mick Jagger’s first wife)
- Dick Cavett (TV talk show host)
- Truman Capote (author)
- Andy Warhol (artist)
- Princess Lee Radziwill (socialite)
Mick and Bianca’s relationship in the movie comes across as devoid of passion, even though they had been married for only one year at the time. They often seem more interested in filming each other than being together as a loving couple. She looks fashionably elegant, but acts more like an aloof companion to Jagger rather than a wife. Given the illicit antics that the Stones were up to on the tour, it’s easy to see why the Stones might consider a humorless wife a buzzkill. The other wives or live-in girlfriends of the Rolling Stones were not seen in “Cocksucker Blues,” even though Anita Pallenberg (Richards’ main squeeze at the time) was there for part of the tour and famously had some cat fights with Bianca Jagger. If those fights were ever filmed, it’s doubtful that footage will ever be made public.