Among avid Stones fans, the question of which lineup was best — the original quintet with Brian Jones, or the one with Jones’ replacement, Mick Taylor — varies with whomever is being asked. There’s really no right or wrong answer, but for those who know the Stones mostly from its current incarnation, with core members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood, who filled in for Taylor in 1975, the film “Charlie Is My Darling,” which chronicled the group’s 1965 tour of Ireland just after they released their breakthrough single, “Satisfaction,” will be enlightened by the Stones’ early mystique, and why it endures after all these years.
This long-bootlegged gem directed by Peter Whitehead and produced by Stones manager at the time Andrew Loog Oldham — considered a kind of Holy Grail for fans, just as “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus,” filmed in 1968, was until its release on laser-disc in 1996 — surfaces on DVD and Blue-ray at a time when interest in the Stones has come full circle during its 50th anniversary. This beautifully photographed B&W film, with added footage overseen by director Mick Gochanour (co-producer on “Rock & Roll Circus”) and producer Robin Klein, offers neither the end-of-the ’60s foreboding of “Gimme Shelter” nor the hedonistic excesses of “Cocksucker Blues,” Robert Frank’s unreleased documentary about the Stones’ 1972 North American tour. Instead, “Charlie Is My Darling” is a comparatively benign look at a group that’s just realizing its artistic and commercial potential, and a bit taken aback by its popularity. Think “Hard Day’s Night” meets “Don’t Look Back.”
The documentary touts some of the earliest existing live footage of the band, and it’s riveting. At this point in its growth, the Stones were already sparking pandemonium at its shows, with one sequence showing an Irish crowd rushing the stage during a performance of “It’s All Right.”
Unlike the Beatles (who are the subject of some gentle ribbing during the film), the Stones don’t seem all too keen on mugging for the camera. Charlie Watts is typically nonplussed and bemused by all the fuss. Jagger behaves like the group’s spokeman, but the gargantuan ego in-the-making is not yet evident. Richards seems glued to his guitar, with a scene of him and Jagger fine-tuning the lyrics of “Sitting on a Fence” providing one of the film’s more priceless moments.
With all the filmed footage of the Rolling Stones that exists, Brian Jones has always remained the group’s most enigmatic figure, while his death in 1969 predated the Stones’ emergence into a stadium-touring juggernaut. In this documentary he’s seen as a rather existential figure, cryptically prescient about his doomed fate. “Let’s face it, the future as a Rolling Stone is very uncertain,” he tells one interviewer with an impish grin that turns dead serious. “My ultimate aim in life was never to be a pop star. I enjoy it, with reservations. But I’m not really satisfied either artistically or personally.”
The film will have its world premiere on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the New York Film Festival and will be available as a box set Nov. 6, including a DVD and Blu-ray of the new version of the film as well as a director’s and producer’s cut. Those interested in the deluxe package are looking at a $99 list price, but the DVD ($19.98) and Blu-ray are available separately. There will also be a digital-only version, with an as-yet-to-be-determined price.
Whatever Stones fans shell out, this filmed chronicle is one for the ages.