There was little to pity about the Rolling Stones in September of 1965. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was outselling the Beatles, with the band on the cusp of mega-stardom and half-amazed to be so. On stage, they still got to play a lot of straight blues, while backstage they were hatching something altogether newer. Recut by Mick Gochanour and Robin Klein from Peter Whitehead’s original film, The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling—Ireland 1965 captures this charged moment in the band’s history with a stylish intimacy absent from Stones in Exile or even Shine a Light. Charlie Is My Darling‘s approach is more D.A. Pennebaker than Martin Scorsese: Combining rare early concert footage with well-chosen scenes of the boys back at the hotel, the doc weaves its footage into a meditation on sex, art, and money among a band not yet wearied of all three.
Across two days and four gigs in Dublin and Belfast, the Stones offer heat-laced renditions of “This Could Be the Last Time,” “Time Is on My Side,” and “Pain in My Heart,” as well as the brand new “Satisfaction.” The stages are small, the performances manic but tight, the performers unremitting in their glee. Scenes of the Stones backstage, or goofing in hotel rooms, have been culled sedulously from what must have been hours of pure drunken nonsense; we’re privy to glimmering little moments, plus ominous intimations of what’s to come. Mick and Keith argue over a line as they compose “Sittin’ on a Fence” (later to appear on Flowers), before making up over an acoustic “Tell Me” (from the band’s debut). Caught between mockery and admiration, they futz around with the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Eight Days a Week.” Among other things, the scene reminds us that the Stones worked best when the rivalries were external.
Elsewhere in the film, Jagger complains about pop music’s tendency to be “all romantic,” by which he means it doesn’t evoke a strain of everyday madness—as he puts it, “coming home and feeling very screwed up about things.” Then there are the moments of portent. Brian Jones observes that “the future as a Rolling Stone is very uncertain,” and that he’s “always been a bit apprehensive about the future.” (The band would find him drowned in a swimming pool four years later.) Meanwhile, we see hints of the frenzy the Stones could whip an audience into: At one gig, the band soldiers through Bo Diddley’s “It’s All Right” as the stage is flooded with marauding teens. When Bill Wyman is asked for comment on a girl whose legs were fractured in one pile-on, the bassist can only muster a “Well.…” Whether there’s a through line from these stampedes to the blood at Altamont in 1969 is left to the viewer’s discretion.
Interspersed throughout is a one-on-one interview between Whitehead and Jagger addressing the economic basis for the rise of rock n’ roll. “The kids,” Jagger says, “are looking for some different moral value because they know they’re gonna get all the things that they thought impossible 50 years ago.” If for centuries, humans have been “coming home and feeling really screwed up about things,” the emerging versions of commerce and self-regard were born of a market where the old pieties no longer applied. Charlie Is My Darling emphasizes the accompanying musical innovation in liquorized backstage sessions over acoustic guitars, as the band repurposed its sources, transposing the contrarian code of the blues into more modern pathologies with riffs to match. Jagger and Richards wrote “19th Nervous Breakdown” on the 1965 tour, and the period marked a transition between racy rock n’ roll and heavier, or at least more conflicted, offerings. Still, it’s a happy and exciting cusp, and the fly-on-the-wall filming induces regular surprises, both musical and otherwise.