Cocksucker Blues

The first I knew of this film was when I was offered a VHS copy several years ago. After being assured that it was not some dodgy porn but in fact a documentary on the Rolling Stones I gladly accepted.

Filmed by Robert Frank and Daniel Seymour on the 1972 US tour after the release of Exile On Main St, this shows the Stones at their most gloriously wasted. Truly, Bohemian doesn't even come close to describing the languid atmosphere in some of the early scenes with the members of the band hanging around in a Mansion doing barely anything at all.

Much has been said about the debauchery in this documentary - which is not as sensationalist or as shocking as it's banned underground status would imply. I can see why the Stones didn't want this film shown at the time though as it is both unflinchingly revealing and explicit yet dispels the myth of the superstar rock god much more than it bolsters the notion. Banning it has of course added to the mystique over the years but what struck me was how, well, normal everyone appeared (drug use, TV-set murder and private jets aside that is...)

I also think it is excellently edited. Vaguely linear, with some chopping back and forth, we watch as the band seems to come more alive as the tour progresses, getting tighter on stage and more engaged and human off it.


Though currently still banned - only Robert Frank is legally allowed to screen the film, at which he must be present - it is available as a bootleg if you know where to look. I have seen two copies; both watchable but of equally bad quality.

However, it will get an official release later this year as part of Steidl's Robert Frank Project, including the Complete Film Works boxed set series, which if you were to buy all 10 volumes at full retail would set you back around $1 400.

Maybe volume 4 (with Cocksucker Blues) will make a good Christmas present for my Dad. If so I'll be sure to watch it with him. It'll be well worth it.

Now the question remains as to whether I need The Americans on my bookshelf, or if I can remain content to leaf through it at the library...

5 comments:

Michael David Murphy said...

Screenings of this film *are* allowed in Frank's absence. I've seen two of them. Perhaps the agreement is something like "only one public screening a year" unless Frank is present...

Tom White said...

I think the court order is fairly lazily enforced and the definition of 'public' is a bit loose, hence over the years there have been actually a fair amount of public screenings, though strictly speaking, legally Frank should be present when the film is shown to an audience.

Stan B. said...

Being the rabid Stones' fan back in the day (and Frank fan to boot), I couldn't wait to see this "forbidden" masterwork featuring the greatest of the greats in both the visual and aural realms. My god, the secrets it must contain- no wonder only a chosen few could ever be expected to gaze upon its glory, depth and wisdom!

And although it's been well over twenty years, (and Frank was nowhere to be seen), I distinctly remember thinking- no wonder Jagger doesn't want this seen. It's the most embarrassingly, god awful, sleep inducing piece of celluloid ever projected unto a screen.

Tom White said...

I agree, in that I think it does a good job (intentional or not) of dispelling the 'Rock God' myth by revealing some of the less appealing aspects of their characters, but this is also partly what I like about it. It is the scenes which are the most normal and tedious that I find the most interesting. It's like watching a badly made home movie where you forget to edit out all the stuff that is unflattering, which actually ends up being the most entertaining bits. Drug use, naked groupies and rockstar egos are all a bit dull for me but the Stones playing pool in a backroom bar and looking bumbling and foolish in front of the regulars? That's entertainment.

Stan B. said...

Sure would have been interesting to see a Frederick Wiseman version, or even Scorsese's- back in the day, that is.

At least Annie Liebowitz did her best (B&W still photo) work with them...