The Rolling Stones file down a Covent Garden back street in 1963. (Terry O'Neill / Getty Images )
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.
PHOTOS: Rolling Stones through the decades
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.