One rarely associates the Rolling Stones with the word “boring,” but this is the impression generated in the long-banned 1972 documentary “Cocksucker Blues.” While the film has gained a semi-legendary reputation for its depiction of naughty behavior by the band and its small army of roadies and groupies, the truth is “Cocksucker Blues” takes the experience of being on a rock tour and reduces it to a state of utter monotony.
“Cocksucker Blues” was a problem production from the very beginning when the Rolling Stones hired Robert Frank to direct the film. Frank was best known as a photographer and he created the classic “Exile on Main Street” cover art for the band. He was also an occasional filmmaker, with his most famous endeavor being the 1959 underground short “Pull My Daisy,” which was made in collaboration with Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beat maniacs.
But Frank dropped the proverbial ball when it came time to shoot “Cocksucker Blues.” It seemed he was on the verge of dropping the 16mm camera while shooting the movie — the film is a mess of herky-jerky handheld camerawork which often goes out of focus or cuts off the heads of its subjects. And when the camera is in focus, the sound often becomes so opaque that one needs to read lips in order to follow what’s being said. At one point, Frank and his camera turn up in a mirror as he tries to film Keith Richards being made up for the stage. It is a jarring experience to suddenly see the filmmaker turn up unexpectedly in the middle of the movie.
Even if a competent director was in charge (and Frank eventually shared directing credit with someone named Daniel Seymour), “Cocksucker Blues” offers little worthy of consideration. For the most part, the film captures (at great length) the least interesting aspects of a rock tour. Long stretches of travel from one location to another, long stretches in the make-up chair to be prettified for the stage (no mean feat with this band), long stretches with bumbling local reporters asking the same dumb questions at each stop, and long stretches lying around hotel rooms waiting to be called for performance. Every now and then, a famous face shows up for a quickie visit (Tina Turner, Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett and Truman Capote can be spotted), but those are momentary distractions in an otherwise humdrum existence.
During the course of the filming, it became obvious “Cocksucker Blues” was becoming something of a snoozer. To spice things up, Frank and the band agreed to stage orgy sequences and heroin shoot-ups. The band itself kept its clothing on (Mick Jagger does a brief masturbatory rubdown across his tight pants). But for the raunch, the tour’s entourage (especially the cute young females) somehow found their inhibitions and clothing dropping to the floor. The weirdest scene is a randy romp in a private jet during a flight, with roadies and groups bouncing about sans clothing while the Rolling Stones stood by and played an improvised bacchanalia chant.
The original “Cocksucker Blues” footage reportedly included drug usage by the Rolling Stones, but nothing of that nature is in the final print. The only inkling that rock’s bad boys were getting high comes when Keith Richards abruptly nods off backstage in what appears to be a narcotized haze. Richards may or may not have been sober when he decided to get assistance in lifting a television from his hotel room and depositing it off the room’s terrace. The shock is not the actual destruction of the television, but the fact Richards and his less-than-healthy mates were able to lift the television and carry it across a room and out on a terrace.
Strangely, “Cocksucker Blues” rarely finds the band in concert. And when they are on stage, they are not at their peak. In fact, Jagger’s rendition of “Brown Sugar” is so slovenly that it sounds like a drunken karaoke slur. The sound recording of the concert sequences ranks among the worst of any concert film.
“Cocksucker Blues” was completed and previewed for the MPAA, which gave it an X rating. If the Stones were stoned on the road while Frank’s camera was rolling, they were more than sober when they viewed the final print. Even with a pre-credit disclaimer insisting the non-concert scenes were staged, “Cocksucker Blues” was a severely unflattering mess and the band was terrified that their reputation and record sales would be damaged by it. Although Jagger allegedly told Frank he made “a fucking good film,” the band seized the prints and refused to allow it to be released.
Frank and the Rolling Stones fell into a seven year legal struggle over “Cocksucker Blues,” which ended in 1979 when a court order resulted in a loopy compromise: “Cocksucker Blues” could only be allowed to have one non-theatrical screening per year and Frank had to be present at the screening.
Since 1979, “Cocksucker Blues” and Frank popped up at various venues for rare big screen presentations. However, the film has been a staple of bootleg video for many years and Rolling Stones fans have long been able to see “Cocksucker Blues” despite the best efforts of the band (although some bootleg prints cut the sex and drug scenes, which sort of negates the point of seeking the film out).
There seems no possibility that “Cocksucker Blues” will receive a proper commercial release in the near future. Rolling Stones completists may find this film interesting as a curio. For everyone else, you “can’t get no satisfaction” watching it.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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Posted on March 4, 2005 in Features by Phil Hall
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