In 1972, the British rock band The Rolling Stones arranged with Swiss experimental filmmaker and documentarian Robert Frank to shoot footage of their tour across America to promote their Exile on Main Street album, after all, Frank had already taken the photograph which graced its cover. The title came from a song Mick Jagger had written which according to music business bigwig Marshall Chess had been created for a so-called "party album" which never happened. But the film was to become controversial in other ways besides that...
Now, that's not a very nice name for a film, is it? But it might have been more than a private joke, as it also ensured it would never be released in any form, certainly not in the cinemas of the day - even the porno movies would not stoop so far at that time if they wanted anybody to hear about their product. Therefore it could have been a deliberate ploy to keep the work underground, in which case it worked like a dream, because for decades the main way to see this film would be if you were a dedicated Stones fan and were prepared to get hold of bootlegs to relieve your curiosity about something with such a racy reputation.
Really, Cocksucker Blues was up there with The Beatles' Let It Be for pirated music documentaries of the seventies, except that was far less controversial unless you were an actual Beatle. If you were a Rolling Stone, chances are that you would be more embarrassed by this not for reasons of it depicting your band deteriorating, but more because it made your job look incredibly sordid and directionless when you were not onstage. It was all here, the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll, but oddly not much of it featuring Sir Mick and his group, as Frank seemed to be more captivated by the periphery: roadies and hangers-on and the like.
In spite of all this debauchery, some of it staged for the camera, after a short while the shaky 16mm and even Super-8 footage began to look very samey, and it would not be long before you would find yourself growing very bored. Fans wishing to see their heroes letting rip with some killer performances had to make do with a paltry handful of clips, though Frank wakes everyone up halfway through when Stevie Wonder rockets through a rendition of Uptight that goes straight into a duet with Jagger for Satisfaction (well, they had to play that one, didn't they?). The rest is a selection of the best hotel rooms and dressing rooms America had to offer circa '72.
Probably the most infamous scenes feature the sex and the drugs rather than the rock and roll, with the early bit with the roadies stripping the groupies while in the Stones' private jet - and in one case having sex too - as the band look on and jam percussively, leaving you most likely strangely uncomfortable at witnessing major celebs watching if not really participating. Frank has an observation on those who follow the band to make, too, as if their was something elemental in their music (or enviable - to them - lifestyle) that dragged them down to depths uncharted in popular music fandom. See the interview with the acid head who claims to have been tripping when she gave birth, for just one example.
The drug taking, again not involving the band much, is not for those squeamish about needles, though some of it goes up the noses of those present as well; you can draw your own conclusions when you see Keith Richards slumping over in a state of insensibility, however. This was about the time he was rumoured to be having all his blood changed in a Swiss clinic (or was he having his head stitched onto another body? Something like that), so you can witness the effects of... well, mainly of stultifying boredom that touring brought out. Not even hurling a television over a balcony alleviates it: for fun you might be better off watching Stella Street, although there is one genuine laugh when Mick and Keith are listening to their new acetate and it skips; they stare dazedly at it in a "Did that just happen?" way which is spacily funny.