Film: Postcard from New York

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 2:13pm

The Rolling Stones are touring to celebrate 50 years in rock'n'roll, but they could acknowledge a similarly long time spent in the movies. New York's Museum of Modern Art screened documentaries, features and concert films under the banner "The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film", between November 15 and December 2. An intriguing aspect of the series was that it showed, along with the development of the band's music, the giant steps forward in filmmaking techniques that took place over the period.

The earliest full film was a restored version of Charlie is My Darling, which was started in 1965 and then shelved. A record of the Stones' 1965 Irish tour, it was pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle in the editing room 47 years later. By contrast, Martin Scorsese's fun concert film Shine a Light (2008) is a dazzling affair. But both films feature energetic performances.

Performance (released in 1970) and Sympathy for the Devil (1968) highlighted the filmic experimentation that was taking place in Europe in the late 1960s. The former, directed by Donald Cammell, is a drama which looks at the effect the liberated lifestyle of a decadent ex-rock star (Mick Jagger) has on a rough, homophobic London gangster (James Fox).

If drugs and free living were one side of the Sixties coin, revolutionary politics was the other. In an unlikely collaboration, the Stones and French auteur Jean-Luc Godard joined for Sympathy for the Devil, which documented the band recording the classic track of the same name. Godard, who was using the band to make a point rather than making a film about them, intercut the recording with political scenes.

Jagger hated the finished product. Two versions of the film were released: a producer (and Stones) approved cut, which featured a full version of the song at the end, and Godard's cut. Godard was so irritated by the producer's version that he leapt on the stage at a screening waving a cheque, tried to rent the cinema to shut it down, and urged the audience to go home.

The most controversial Stones film is 1970's Gimme Shelter. An example of direct cinema - a documentary with no interviews or voiceovers - it shows the band's disastrous concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1969. A fan was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel, who was acting as security. The concert is often said to mark the end of the freewheeling hippie Sixties.