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March 29, 2006

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus


Michael Lindsay-Hogg - 1996
Abkco Films Region 1 DVD

I probably would have been more enthusiastic about the Rock and Roll Circus had I seen it at the time of its intended release. Filmed mostly on December 11 going into the early morning of December 12, 1968, Circus now looks like a relic from a bygone time when hippies roamed the earth. It may also be possible that I feel removed from music that use to be the center of my life.

Talkin' 'bout my generation, I'm one of those people who became seriously devoted to rock music when The Beatles wanted to hold my hand. For my friends and myself, the only music worth considering came from England. The first major band I saw in concert was The Kinks, on Ray Davies' 21st birthday no less. The second major band I saw was, and this is kind of embarrassing to say now, Freddie and the Dreamers. The first concert I saw as an NYU freshman was the Fillmore East engagement of The Who. This does not even account for my record buying habits in those days. But it puts into some kind of perspective the how I may have felt about Mick Jagger's circus at the time it was filmed.

For me, it doesn't really matter why the film was never seen until almost ten years ago. What matters is how the performances hold up now. A few years ago I saw Monterey Pop. Bands that I loved in 1967 like Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe & the Fish could no longer command my attention. My response to Otis Redding reflected my change in attitude towards what was at the time called "Soul Music". (And if you ever visit Memphis, I recommend the Stax Museum.)

The first question I have about Circus is who came up with the stupid idea of having the audience wear orange and yellow ponchos with floppy felt hats? If anything gets in the way of enjoying the show, it's seeing how ugly hippie fashions look in retrospect. And what was I thinking when I bought those striped bell-bottoms? At least in this film, The Rolling Stones manage to be less interesting to watch and listen to than even compared with a recent concert on HBO. With Rock and Roll Circus, even if it's not the best filmed performance of The Who, they still manage to be more interesting than anybody else. Yoko Ono looks silly hiding under a big piece of cloth while John Lennon performs "Yer Blues" with Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards. Ono's singing performance is titled "Whole Lotta Yoko" which is more than enough. This is not to dismiss Ono's art, but to say that within the context of the show it looks at best silly, and at worst like a pretentious intellectual's idea of improving rock music. I did get a chill when Keith Richards sang the opening lyrics to Salt of the Earth. It was also nice to see a young, pretty Marianne Faithful wearing a sleeveless dress.

Even if Rock and Roll Circus failed to be seen, it proved to help the careers of those behind the screen. Sandy Lieberson went on to produce Performance among other films. Michael Lindsay-Hogg documented the last days of The Beatles, and directed a nice, underseen film, Frankie Starlight. Cinematographer Anthony Richmond filmed the Stones again, this time with Jean-Luc Godard, but also The Who again for The Kids are Alright.

Posted by peter at March 29, 2006 01:36 PM