Eternally ebbing just around the edges of cinema lore there exists a handful of films that, for one reason or another, you were never meant to see. Whether legal or personal, the reasons behind such a decision more or less guarantee that someone, somewhere it going to doggedly pursue the film until a copy is unearthed. Take, for example, The Rolling Stones’ curiously-titled 1972 backstage documentary Cocksucker Blues, a film that so dissatisfied the band that they got a court order to keep it out of distribution.
The story goes that in 1972, legendary still photographer Robert Frank was involved in a documentary that would capture the Stones – for better and for worse – during their North American tour to promote their album “Exile on Main St.” The result was Cocksucker Blues; a film with a very simple approach: the band is filmed cinéma vérité, warts and all, with several cameras lying around back stage so anyone could pick one up and starts filming. This means that any and all backstage bits of debauchery and excess could and would be captured on film, everything from wild sex parties to rampant drug use. What you see in the film is not exactly surprising. The Stones were not happy with the results. They were concerned about their image as it was portrayed in the film (but more likely because some of the things they are doing on film could land them in jail.)
For years, “Cocksucker Blues” remained hidden and was only screened on the provision that it was allowed to be shown a few times a year with the director present. Meanwhile, for the public, it became a bootleg legend. Bad copies were available from indie video stores and later some bad looking prints began showing up around the internet. Today, more people have probably seen the film than any decade past, and for the hard-lined movie obsessed, the film is something of a lost legend.
Now, let’s get to the million dollar question. Is the movie any good? Well, that depends on you. The movie isn’t exactly insightful, what is contained in this film (and what stays in your memory) are the moments of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The band and nearly every member of their entourage do drugs freely. Keith and Mick do drugs only in fleeting glances. Look fast and you can see Mick snorting cocaine off a knife. A glance captures Keith rolling up a dollar bill before shooing away the cameraman. Others are not so careful. One disturbing scene has a couple shooting heroine in their hotel room and, as they talk to the camera, you can slowly see the drug taking effect. The sex is just as frequent. Lots of naked people (mostly women), lots of sex, especially during a wild party on an airplane that culminates in the most bizarre display of cunnilingus you’re ever likely to experience.
Those moments happen frequently but in between are quiet moments when we get a look at the band during downtime. This was 1972, the 60s were over, and the band was obviously tired. We can see that they are exhausted, possibly by the lifestyle, possibly by each other. Mick Jagger in particular has moments when he is in serious need of a good night’s sleep. Maybe it was the times; this was the band’s first North American tour since four people were killed at their free concert at Altamont four years earlier. The free love generation was on its way out, 60s anger was about to give way to 70s indifference and there are moments – fleeing moments – when you can see that the members of the band would rather be somewhere else.
Then they hit the stage and their lethargy all but disappears. The Rolling Stones have always occupied the stage with fire and energy and none of that is lost here. The best moment – in fact the best moment in the entire movie – occurs when the Stone are on stage singing a medley with Stevie Wonder. That moment was magic. I could have watched an hour of that material.
What are not so magical are the moments when the film grinds into tedium when the band and their entourage are backstage or in their hotel room just doing nothing. The camera is on, it captures some people talking or just laying around and those scenes go on and on. Those moments I could do without. “Cocksucker Blues” is not a great movie; it’s more of a curiosity that captures a legendary band at a crucial moment in their history, if not on their best behavior.