Many of us enjoy reading history backward in this way, and investing innocence with auguries of corruption. Maybe these moments aren’t really there; maybe Charlie Is My Darling is only what it seems, an unlikely retrieval from the period just before rock ‘n’ roll celebrity collided with general apocalypse and glimpsed its true soul in Keith Richards’s rotting tooth.Yet Whitehead too is clearly tempted to see a dark future foretold in his footage. The Charlie DVD contains three separate versions of the film – a new, 65-minute cut; the director’s original cut (35 minutes); the producer’s original cut (49 minutes) – and the Dublin fracas climaxes all three; but it is most lengthy in the newest, post-Altamont cut. And Wyman’s suggestive sigh is missing from the two earlier iterations.
Whitehead, a seasoned documentarian, was engaged by the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, to shoot the band’s brief Irish hop (two shows each in Dublin and Belfast, September 3-4, 1965). Oldham envisioned the film as a dry run for some future full-length project, and as a source of promotional material for new Stones music; it was also “an effort on my part to keep the Stones interested in the idea of film.” The result was screened only a handful of times, usually in bootlegged or otherwise adulterated form; prints were evidently stolen from Oldham’s offices, and the belief consolidated that the film was irretrievably lost. For the last decade or more, it has been assumed that Charlie Is My Darling would never be seen again. But angels of happenstance have delivered it to us—as a single DVD, single Blu-ray, or Super Deluxe limited edition box set encompassing those items plus a hardcover book, concert poster reproduction, random numbered film cell, soundtrack CD, and bonus collection of unreleased live recordings from the Stones’ 1965 UK tour, presented in both CD and 10-inch vinyl formats. (The box is for gourmands preferring a multi-course meal to a modest repast; for most of those it will be worth the cost, while anyone else will get by with one of the slimmer options.)
|The Rolling Stones on tour in 1965|
|The Rollling Stones perform "It's Alright"|
|Manager Andrew Loog Oldham and Brian Jones|
For my money, the director’s first (1965) cut, though the briefest of the three, is the most interesting. Whitehead’s marginally sociological agenda (“It was just a socio-realistic cinema vérité film,” he says) manifests in arty kitchen-sink touches: the opening montage looks like early Ken Loach, with drab orchestration and montage of bleak provincial scenes. Without working too hard to deglamorize the Stones, Whitehead grounds them in the grain of these settings, these people, this corner of the earth. Charlie Watts’s interview, merely a clip in the other cuts, is here held for a single, very long shot, long enough for both Watts’s humor and his musical inferiority complex to be grudgingly revealed (and for the film’s odd title, purloined from an eighteenth-century Scottish ballad, to be justified). The music cues are a little better deployed, with fewer intrusions from Oldham’s Aranbee Pop Symphony Orchestra melting Jagger-Richards songs into shrieking mush. And though the remastering on Whitehead’s 2012 cut is fine, it offers no moment so brisk and bracing as the Stones disembarking at the Dublin airport to the accompaniment of “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” in a dirty, unremastered transistor-radio mix. Hearing and watching, you suddenly snap to the obvious facts – at that instant, this was a brand new song! And the Stones were a fairly new band! There was such a time!
Thus does history sometimes come alive, through the evocative power of scratchy audio. If it’s hard not to read history backward, it’s even harder, sometimes, not to hear it that way.