Friday, August 06, 2010

Random Film Review: Cocksucker Blues

Dir: Robert Frank | 1972 | USA | 93mins

Sex (literally)! Drugs (lots of)! Rock 'n' Roll (not enough of)! Mick masturbating! TV set thrown out of hotel window! Extravagant room service (strawberries, blueberries and three apples)! Notorious but rarely seen, The Rolling Stones' quasi-documentary charts the band's 1972 tour of America in all its grainy, hand-held, 16mm black and white glory. Filmed and directed by photographer Robert Frank, who had recently shot The Stones Exile on Main Street LP cover, it's a revealing, occasionally shocking, often dull look at the band two years after their infamous Gimme Shelter film, which showed a young man being stabbed to death by a Hells Angel biker. It's as if Mick said 'Let's see if we can make this one even more fucked up'. Up to a point it succeeds. Though certain scenes seem obviously set up, a lot of it seems to capture the mix of outrageous and mundane backstage life that no other rock documentary, or rockumentary, if you will, would dare to. In this it stands alone and makes other cinéma vérité rock films such as Dont Look Back look like kindergarten.

Like the similarly-almost-impossible-to-see Renaldo and Clara or Eat the Document (both classic Dylan films), Cocksucker Blues is sadly short of live concert footage, but the segments that are included are great (their 1972 American gigs are said to be among The Stones' best ever), including a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder on stage.

Considering he can't act, Mick Jagger (and The Stones) have had a fairly interesting film career. Four documentaries about the band have been filmed by respected directors – Sympathy for the Devil (1969) by Jean Luc Godard, The Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter (1970), the aforementioned Cocksucker Blues (1972) by Robert Frank and the recent Shine a Light (2008) by Martin Scorsese.

He may not be able to act – but he can perform: witness Performance, Jagger's 1968 debut playing a washed up rock star, directed by Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell. Around this time Mick and Keith befriended experimental film-maker Kenneth Anger, and Jagger ended up providing the soundtrack – a rather painful, repetitive Moog synthesizer noise – for Anger's Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969). The embarrassing Ned Kelly (1970) would signify an end to his short-lived acting career.

Pretty safe extracts from Cocksucker Blues were recently shown on Stones in Exile, a BBC film exploring their 1972 album Exile on Main Street, but you can watch it all here if you like.

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