In 1965, Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham commissioned director Peter Whitehead to shoot cinema verite footage of the group's two-day September Irish tour in an effort, as he put it, to let the lads get their "celluloid legs" and see who most captivated the camera offstage. The footage was collected into a slapdash film called "Charlie Is My Darling" (because the Stones' taciturn drummer was deemed most camera-friendly) that was shopped the following year but never officially released or aired -- although wobbly bootlegs have been circulating for decades -- and the reels sat in film cans, largely untouched, for more than 40 years.
As part of ABKCO's ongoing restoration of the Stones' early archives -- not to mention the band's 50th anniversary and tour dates later this year -- the film has been laboriously cleaned up and made into a new, longer documentary, including live segments that represent the earliest known professionally shot concert footage of the group.
Anyone watching the film -- which has been making the rounds at film festivals and was released as a lavish DVD/Blu-Ray/CD boxed set on November 6 -- may well wonder how such a historic document could have languished for so long.
After all, the live footage alone - six songs, including the then-new single "Satisfaction" -- is arguably the most exciting video document of the Stones' early years, capturing both the primal energy of their performance and the hysteria it evoked in their audiences. (One song actually is not complete: During "I'm Alright," crowd members swarmed onstage -- not just hugging the band but tackling them -- and the Stones had to be rushed offstage by police.)
Elsewhere, the cameras follow the shockingly young-looking band members (Mick Jagger was 22; Keith Richards 21) on nearly every step of the trip, talking to and running from fans; goofing around in hotel rooms; writing songs and doing juvenile musical impersonations of the Beatles, Elvis and cheesy music-hall tunes.
Two main reasons are cited for the delay: one, despite a long trail of greatest-hits albums, the Stones are "very focused on the here and now," says ABKCO's Robin Klein, and rarely mine their substantial vaults; and two, they didn't realize how much unused footage from "Charlie" existed, let alone how vibrant it is. There was also some resistance based on the slapdash nature of the original film. "When we started to ask people to look at it, there was kind of a collective groan," Klein says, "and then collective surprise when they saw what we'd done with it."
That process began in February of last year when, as they had with "The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus" about 15 years earlier, Klein and ABKCO's Mick Gochanour began a treasure hunt for the footage.
"ABKCO had transferred some 'Charlie' footage in the '80s for reference," Gochanour says. "We noticed there was a lot of silent footage of the Stones performing onstage, and that led us to search the vault for additional footage. We found five to six hours of it -- some in cans, some negatives Whitehead had never seen, and we realized there was enough to create a completely different story."
Then began the long process of optimizing the footage and painstakingly syncing the concert film footage with audio recordings, which itself took eight months. "Almost everything had to be restored - de-noised, de-clicked, cleaned up," Gochanour says. "And some of the [film] was pristine, other bits looked like they had been thrown on the floor and walked on. [Engineer] Glyn Johns did a spectacular job with the [concert] audio, but today's technology allowed us to improve the sound a lot. We used no overdubs but it did require a lot of restoration. A lot of the audio tapes were undocumented; I can't definitively say that the version of the song you're hearing is the same as the one you're seeing, but they sync up."
Neither Klein nor Gochanour would reveal what the next Stones archival project might be, but there is Whitehead-shot footage of a 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert, "The Rock and Roll Circus" may be ready for a high-def overhaul, heaven knows how much unused footage remains from "Gimme Shelter," and, of course, there are dozens of television appearances. "BBC material, 'Ed Sullivan' - we're always looking at those, but there are licensing issues," Gochanour says.
So even though Klein promises "there is more to come," you shouldn't throw out those VHS bootlegs just yet.