NYFF: Charlie is My Darling

[This is the second in a series of dispatches relating to the 50th New York Film Festival. All of Reluctant Habits’s NYFF posts can be located here.]

They wrote new songs while holed up in motel rooms and flirted with women behind glass as they tried to eat dinner. When young girls were asked why they were drawn to the thin devilish man with the big lips, they could only reply, “I just like him.”

The Altamont Free Concert, with its rough Hells Angels security detail and the grim fate of Meredith Hunter, was only four years away, but Charlie is My Darling, which follows the Rolling Stones on a three day rush through Ireland in crisp and freshly restored black and white, proves that the raw sexual power the band held before a crowd was already well established. In one of the film’s genuinely thrilling moments, we see young people jump on stage, instantly transforming guitar cables into umbilical cords through a simple act of adolescent mischief. Drummer Charlie Watts tries to keep a steady beat as a kid leans very close to his right, eluding capture.

Charlie is My Darling might almost serve as an instructional film on how to be a screaming teenage girl in 1965, but the dark underbelly is revealed when we see girls with fractured legs carried away on stretchers.

Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night poked fun at a blockbuster band’s nonstop sprint from the fans, but this doc has a grittier feel. Part of this is human attitude. The band is well aware that it is responding to a long tradition of pop songs where romantic lyrics describe idealistic moments that have no real bearing to what people are actually doing. The band shows no reticence in remarking on this. Yet the film establishes its own humor, such as the Stones offering commentary over a clip of Mick Jagger schmoozing with important people and band members sneaking up behind kids on light afternoons.

It also features the Stones becoming increasingly drunker, singing Fats Domino and Elvis Presley tunes during a long night around a piano with the alcoholic accoutrements slid across the top. In more sober off-stage moments, we see them play the Beatles’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Always keep track of the competition.

“You have to be very egotistical,” says Jagger when he is asked by a reporter about what it’s like to hold a crowd in such awe. Charlie is My Darling is a vibrant ride inside the Stones’s touring world, but it’s not as brave as Robert Frank’s infamous Cocksucker Blues, with its heroin-injecting groupies and its coke-snorting tips from Keith Richards. The shaggy and vivacious and cocky Brian Jones offers an early glimpse of the more explicit dissolution to come with some revealing statements about marriage. Godard would depict him on the outs in Sympathy for the Devil. He would be dead in a swimming pool not long after that.


  1. The Stones and the Beatles weren’t so much competitors as comrades in arms. The Stones’ second single was “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a U.K. hit partially written in the presence of Mick and Keith by Lennon and McCartney. They were always checking in with each other on what was going down musically: their progression in pop composing traveled the same trajectory — witness Magical Mystery Tour and the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, which were both sort of psychedelic fantasy music, with players in both groups taking the part of wizards, and Lennon and McCartney even contributing back-up vocals to one of the Majesties’ album’s songs. And the albums were released on the same day in 1967 – the sadly ironic December eighth. The Beatles and the Stones were really mates.

    Ever see the movie Performance? It’s all about the ways that identity (and gender) could get mixed up, with the faded pop star played by Jagger ultimately taking on the identity of a Kray brothers type hit man (or was it the hit man taking on the pop star’s identity — aye, there’s the rub!).* I guess what I’m getting at via a completely circuitous route is that the Beatles and Stones were the same thing, though apparently nobody knew it except them. It’s why the question, which persists sometimes in interviews even today, in an attempt to get closer to the interviewee’s essence, “Beatles or Stones?” is so amusing, if not meaningless. For the sake of accuracy, it should be “Beatles music or Stones music, ’62 to ‘69?” of course.

    * The concept of Cartesian Dualism (ahem!) comes into play here, insofar as it was referenced in the Monty Python sketch “The Piranha Brothers,” where it is explained that the Piranhas, stand-ins for the notorious Krays, used psychological means to terrify their victims; especially so Doug Piranha, whose “sarcasm, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire” were enough to make men pull off their own heads rather than face him. Whatever, the Performance characters’ double mind/body mix-up at the end of that film guaranteed that it would never be called a feel good romp, as the pop star (or the hit man — so confusing!) gets shot in the head and becomes “the other.” Jagger’s pop star’s transformation into gangland kingpin in the film’s music video — 20 years before the appearance of MTV — is in fact one of cinema’s great examples of poetically-licensed Dualistic interactionism (do you believe this crap?), as the camera follows the bullet travelling into his brain where we find pop star/gangster conducting a meeting with underlings and singing “Memo From Turner,” a sort of nightmare musical version of the Python’s “Piranhas” sketch. I guess if one can deduce anything from what may very well be my faulty logic, it’s that it’s a long way from “I can’t get no satisfaction” to “I rock, therefore I am.”

    PS — Sorry to hear that Segundo will not be coming out of the cave anymore. His guano fertilized the literary fields for us all.

  2. For the record, this refers to the film CHARLIE IS MY DARLING – IRELAND 1965 and was not a restoration of Mr Whitehead’s original assembly, but a new film which was constructed from 5+ hours of footage discovered in the vaults, much of which was still sealed and not processed at the time. Peter did not consider this to be ‘his’ film. A separate restoration of the 35min film was done at the same time to preserve his vision.

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