HBO’s “Crossfire Hurricane” isn’t the only new documentary to offer a revealing glimpse into the half-century career of the Rolling Stones. Also just out is “Charlie Is My Darling,” which follows the band on a short 1965 tour of Ireland, with vivid scenes both onstage and off, as screaming-weeping-elated fans overrun the stage. It might have been a groundbreaking film -- not unlike Bob Dylan’s “Don't Look Back” -- had it been released that decade or any decade.
Instead, “Charlie Is My Darling” was kept on the shelf, existing only as rumor and lo-fi bootlegs traded by hard-core Stones fans. It was directed by Peter Whitehead and produced by the band’s then-manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, as an experiment and a way to ease the charismatic British act into possible film work, just as the Beatles had done to great success. Oldham wanted the Stones to star in a film version of “A Clockwork Orange,” but never got the rights.
The upside to the decades-long delay in the release of “Charlie Is My Darling” is that modern digital technology is available to complete a new edition with astonishingly crisp sound and vivid black-and-white images from half a century ago. ABKCO, which controls the band’s '60s catalog, has just released the film on DVD and Blu-ray, along with a multi-disc boxed set that also includes early edits of the film, the soundtrack, a book of photos and more.
During a recent trip to the U.S. from his adopted home in Bogota, Colombia, Oldham spoke with The Times about the Stones’ early years, the intense reaction of fans, and playing for the cameras.
You’ve lived with the “Charlie Is My Darling” footage for a long time. Did the newest version surprise you at all?
No, because I knew the edit that we had. It was all part of an exercise back then to see what they looked like on film offstage -- to get them in the mood, particularly Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards]. Everyone was making films then. There is that beautiful scene in the film where Mick and Keith are basically songwriting, but back in the day, had we released it, I certainly wouldn’t have included that in it. That wasn’t an era where you showed how the work was done.
Because that would have broken the spell?
Yeah, that will do for openers. Now the spell doesn’t come into it. The spell is the whole process because there is so much technological space to fill up. There’s none of the magic we grew up on -- Elvis or Eddie Cochran were a mystery.
Did anyone recognize yet that the Stones were doing something important?
I wouldn’t use the word “important.” Interesting, yeah, but important? You’re dealing with the very end of the first half of the '60s. That period goes on until the Beatles appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” because that changed the name of the game. Until then, anybody who was successful in England didn’t say, "Oh, man, I’m going to see the world!” No, you might see Belgium. Until that stage, you’re dealing with, “Oh thank God I haven’t got one of those depressing jobs they promised me for my future. We got away with it for a while.” Then America turned it into survival of the fittest. And this “Charlie Is My Darling” is placed at -- if we can quote Don Henley -- the end of the innocence.
You had some interest in making “A Clockwork Orange” into a film?
That was a life-changing book. If there was anything I was interested in other than the Stones, it was “A Clockwork Orange.” I couldn’t get it.
There is a huge demand for Stones material. Why did it take so long for this film to finally get out?
I don’t know, man. I wasn’t pushing it. It came up every seven-year cycle. But this is the first time it became a reality.
Did the 50th anniversary of the band play a role?
To me, it’s the 49th. This anniversary is going to go on forever. There will be another one in 2015, when Americans celebrate “Satisfaction.” [laughs]
I don’t know if there will be a tour at that point.
You have a point. It was Jan. 23, 1963, when Charlie Watts first played drums in the Rolling Stones. It’s fishes and loaves, isn’t it?
For “Charlie Is My Darling,” was the tour of Ireland simply the next available tour dates to film, or was it picked for a reason?
I definitely picked Ireland because it was out of the way. To do it in England would have probably been more expensive, and there would be more people hanging around, making it difficult to do. One of the ideas was to get them used to cameras. You can see me egging them on in the movie.
But you did that anyway.
Well, I did a bit more when the camera was rolling.
Some of the moments that stand out in the movie are when young fans are literally attacking them onstage -- out of excitement or love or something -- sometimes actually tackling them. Was that typical?
It was. It wasn’t any different than England or Germany. “Satisfaction” had just gone to No. 1 and now we’ve got to do this movie. That was the general reaction the Stones were getting for a good year and a half. That’s what life was like, man.
I was having an interesting conversation with Dave Grohl the other day, and he was talking about what his first gigs were like when he was younger. He had seen “Charlie Is My Darling,” and he was talking about going to his first gigs and jumping in the mosh pit, and this guy is vomiting over this other guy. What you see in “Charlie Is My Darling,” those audiences who came to see the Stones didn’t know how they were going to react. Nobody turned around and went, “Right, I’m going to go down there and I’m going to start weeping, I’m going to have a breakdown.” Which is pretty amazing. Our lives hadn’t become programmed.
The Stones were still pleasantly surprised, as I think you can see. They weren’t blasé about it. It’s a wonderful period of their lives, a wonderful period of music’s life, where it’s not the $400 Chardonnay crowd.
Were the Stones comfortable having cameras around that first time?
After I saw and edited with Peter Whitehead the interviews, I just had this dream [a filmmaker] would call me and go, “Charles Bronson couldn’t turn up for this movie in France and could Charlie [Watts] come over and do it?” I thought he was wonderful. He had a great presence.
Also in the film, Brian Jones is very much engaged and present. What was his role in the band at that point?
It was very good. He went through so many different chapters with the band. This one is made easier for him because he got attention. But he’s still somewhat removed. The rest of the band was -- we were all very "Lord of the Flies" and young -- living in the moment. Brian was smiling and all that, but he’s waiting for this affirmation. Nobody else is as concerned about what he’s concerned about.
Do you have a favorite musical moment in the film?
Mick’s rendition of “Tell Me” is amazing. I would have loved to see him do that in the White House. Mick Jagger and the Pips -- that’s what it sounds like to me what he’s doing in that hotel room. There was a bit of Atlantic Records in there or something.
Were the scenes of the band with a guitar or piano back at the hotel a typical thing that would happen, or was it done for the cameras?
It was a typical thing that would happen, and we’re very blessed that it happened in front of the cameras. They allowed an invasion of privacy because they understood what we were doing. They faced all the hurdles.
Fans love to see that kind of thing.
Now. It’s certainly appropriate now, especially when you see what has happened with the very idea of the record business. This now seems like it was a 100 years ago, not the 50th that it is, or 47.
People look at “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction” as a turning point in rock. Did you see it that way then, or was it just another hit?
It seemed like a wonderful hit at the time, but when you then tour it in Europe and you see people getting off as much saying the words, and it’s comfortable in a foreign language mouth, it’s more than a hit. Same thing with Eddie Cochran with “C’mon Everybody” told me who I was, to see it telling somebody else who they were and giving them the respect . . . Our music and our heroes tell everybody, our parents and our friends, those we let know, who we are. And “Satisfaction” was a big baton of that. And “Get Off of My Cloud.”
That was recorded in Los Angles at RCA?
Yes. We were very blessed. We could record wherever we wanted to. We weren’t stuck in Decca or stuck in EMI or whatever. It gave the Stones the opportunity to be made and shaped by America, which is different from making it in America. To come to America, where making this music was not a dirty business -- to just be, “Oh wow, people do this for a living, and they go home and they admit it.” It was wonderful.