In September of 1965, the Rolling Stones did a quick two-city tour of Ireland on the heels of the success of their latest single, “Satisfaction.” Inspired by the Beatles “Hard Days Night,” released the previous year, manager Andrew Loog Oldham hired director Peter Whitehead to film some cinema verite footage and ace engineer Glyn Johns to record the shows. The footage was collected into a maddeningly uneven 50-minute documentary called “Charlie Is My Darling” that was shopped the following year but never officially released or aired — although wobbly bootleg copies have been making the rounds for decades — and the reels sat in film cans, largely untouched, for more than 40 years.
As part of ABKCO’s ongoing exploration and restoration of the Stones’ early archives — not to mention the band’s 50th anniversary and tour dates later this year — the footage has been laboriously cleaned up and made into a new, longer film, with 60 percent new footage and six complete songs (including “The Last Time,” “Satisfaction” and “Time Is On My Side”) that represent nothing less than the earliest known professionally shot concert footage of the Rolling Stones, with painstakingly remixed sound.
The results are absolutely staggering: The live footage alone 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 before they could finish.)
The cameras follow the Stones nearly every step of the way during the trip, traveling to, from and around Ireland (where it was seemingly always raining); signing autographs and doing interviews; talking to (and running from) fans, goofing around in hotel rooms; writing songs (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are seen polishing the deep cut “Sittin’ on a Fence”) and doing juvenile musical impersonations of the Beatles, Elvis, Fats Domino and cheesy music-hall songs and other songs of their own.
Throughout, the Stones look absolutely magnificent in their Swinging London splendor, with lots of turtlenecks, sunglasses, suede, Cuban heels, and checkered jackets and pants.
And while the then-scourges of British society are shockingly young and fresh-faced (Jagger is 22, Richards is 21), they’re also wise far beyond their years in a way that the film — with nearly 50 years of hindsight — skillfully plays up. Jagger says when they started they expected to be around for a year to 18 months; Brian Jones says “Let’s face it: The future as a Rolling Stone is very uncertain,” refers to “our peculiar sort of success” and says “I’ve always been a little apprehensive of the future” (he had less than four years to live). Jagger speaks presciently about the rise of the counterculture, the anti-war movement and sexual liberation, “especially in America.” Asked how much of his performance is acting, he says, “I suppose really all of it is acting …. The most successful actors have been the most egotistical ones.” And offstage? “[I’m] about half as egotistical,” he laughs.
At one point Bill Wyman muses, “It makes you wonder if there’s an easier way of making a living.”
Perhaps most strikingly of all, “Charlie Is My Darling” captures the group at a unique point in their career. They’d been famous for more than a year, long enough to be accustomed to it on one level, and still overwhelmed and perplexed by it on others. They’re also close-knit in a Beatles-ish way that was probably a distant memory just a year later: You see them sleeping on each others’ shoulders as the plane leaves Ireland, and supporting each other in a way that would soon be superceded by the Mick/Keith power duo.
The film footage is grainy at times but always clear, and the sound improvement is downright astounding. “We did some pretty serious science on this,” director Mick Gochanour, a longtime fan, told Billboard about the painstaking restoration process, which found them working with completely un-synched, often unlabeled separate soundtracks and film. “It took eight months to synch up the [soundtrack] with the live performances,” he said. “We realized during the middle that we had six complete performances” from the two different cities, recorded on long-obsolete three-track tape.
“Glyn Johns did a phenomenal job,” he said. “There were three tracks: the audience, Mick, and the band. The audience recording was slightly out-of-synch with the band, and when we aligned them, it gave unbelievable definition to the bass and drums.
“You can only imagine what it was like to work on this!” he gushed.
The world premiere of “The Rolling Stones Charlie is my Darling – Ireland 1965” takes place during the New York Film Festival on September 29 (Andrew Loog Oldham will be present for a Q&A); an encore screening of the film will be held on October 3 at 8:30 PM. Both screenings are scheduled for the Walter Reade Theatre. There will be another screening at the 92 Street Y in New York on October 5, which will feature a conversation between Oldham and Steven Van Zandt (tickets are available to the public).
The film has a commercial retail release date of November 6; the director’s cut, the producer’s cut and this new 2012 version will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and as part of a Super Deluxe Box Set.