|Mick Jagger and Keith Richards onstage during one of the rare, |
adrenaline-filled concert sequences
Robert Frank seems to have had a pattern of producing work that breaks through the gloss of romance imposed by culture on his subjects. His now-famous photograph book The Americans was derided by critics and had extremely poor sales due to its unflinching portrayal of American small-town life as empty and lonely, with a huge gap between the promises of wealth and the poverty of the lower classes. The book was first published in France, because Americans simply did not want to confront the reality Frank was portraying. Cocksucker Blues (1972), a film that the Rolling Stones commissioned Frank to make about their life on the road in America, had an even more drastic fate. Its depiction of life on tour was such that the Stones had the film banned, and it was officially available to screen only once a year in Frank's presence. But bootleg copies (of varying terrible quality) have circulated for decades, and now that everything is available on the internet, Cocksucker Blues is no exception. During its years of existence as an almost impossible-to-find bootleg, the film acquired notoriety for its portrayal of drug use and sex. However, it was not this that caused the film to be banned; those scenes are neither as excessive nor as offensive as they have been described in legend, and could have been edited out had the Stones opted for a public release. The true reason the film was banned was that the Stones didn't want to break down romantic ideals of a glamorous rock star life. They were afraid that their audience, like the early readers of The Americans, could not stand the truth being presented so unflinchingly.
Boredom predominates the entire film. The tour unfurls as an endless, excruciating road trip, in the dullness of which all attempts at diversion are swallowed up. The Stones and their entourage are depicted as pointlessly indulging in sex and drugs, but are bored with all of it, especially the band themselves. Mick Jagger, who is frequently the center of the camera's attention, never shows any emotion offstage. He lounges around, eyes unfocused and dull, not a single smile or sign of interest or excitement. He even manages to look bored while taking cocaine. The band are clearly exhausted by the excess; they regard the road crew's sexual antics with casual indifference, unfazed and uninterested by the scantily clad or naked groupies surrounding them. They have progressed beyond decadence to utter dissipation. They have clearly not become comfortable with media attention, but have merely become bored with it. The radio interviews and reports about the band that appear in the movie label them in extravagant and outrageous terms (such as "the Lucifer of rock"), showing the ridiculous pressure the Stones, especially Jagger, find themselves under. The depressed state of the band is in stark contrast to footage of fans waiting for the show; they are happy, excited, making faces at the camera, screaming, and laughing.
|Robert Frank's photo of a road in New Mexico|
from The Americans, the featureless, almost
horrifying dullness of which is a good
illustration of life on tour for the Rolling Stones
The only scenes where the band exhibit any excitement (or emotion at all) are the performances and rehearsals. They were shot mostly in color, as opposed to the black and white of the rest of the footage, and are electrifying in their jarring contrast to the endless ennui they are embedded in. Mick becomes an excited, hyperactive whirlwind of dancing, shedding glitter from his hair, smiling, laughing, and gesticulating. Even when he faces away from the crowd to look at drummer Charlie Watts, the smile doesn't fade. The transformation seems as incredible as seeing a statue spring to life. Here for the first time the band are enthusiastic and unrestrained. Curiously, they become much like the audience, just there for a good time rather to put on a show; everyone in the entourage and the opening band gets onstage, just to dance if they don't have an instrument, and wind up having a confetti fight.
|Overexcited fans waiting to see the Stones|
Cocksucker Blues is perhaps the most straightforward and penetrating look at a lifestyle that we as a culture tend to idealize. It reveals that the lifestyle is indeed different, but the problems are the same. Bored with an ordinary, repetitive life, it is tempting to imagine rock stars having spectacular, adventure-packed lives – a belief that Robert Frank refuses to allow his audience. Theirs is a boredom of a different kind; the boredom of ease, wealth, and indolence. In one scene, Mick's supermodel wife Bianca sits playing the same tune on a music box over and over again while someone is packing for them. The band lounges around pointlessly, fidgeting restlessly, surrounded by their drug-induced, raving crew. Like their audience, they live for the brief time they spend onstage. In this movie, Robert Frank mercilessly rips the rose-colored lenses away, forcing us to confront the soul-gnawing reality of life on the road for a rock band; the ennui, the depression, the indifference, the nauseating excess.
|Keith Richards and a groupie backstage|