I have never been in anything like this. I have been on trips with extraordinary people before, but this totally excludes the outside world. Never to know what city you are in – I cannot get used to it.
-Robert Frank on travelling with the Rolling Stones
It’s a fucking good film, Robert, but if it shows in America we’ll never be allowed in the country again.
-Mick Jagger to Robert Frank about Cocksucker Blues
Robert Frank’s Rolling Stones documentary, Cocksucker Blues (1972), is an awkward addition to his oeuvre that includes twenty-five films and many celebrated photograph collections. Lacking the aesthetic beauty and sensibility of his other works, Cocksucker Blues exposes the debauchery and decadent milieu of the rock world. Filmed in cinéma vérité style, the documentary, which follows the Stones on their notorious 1972 tour of America, features heavy scenes of drug use, group sex, and some occasional segments of rock ‘n’ roll. Not surprisingly, the Stones feared its release could jeopardise future tours to America. Taking the matter to court, Mick Jagger argued that the copyright belonged to him because he commissioned the film. Siding with Jagger, the film was subsequently banned from public screenings, even though it was allowed to screen in Frank’s presence, under the condition that it does not play more than five times per year. Indeed, this landmark decision questioned the very notion of copyright and intellectual property regarding ‘future commissioned’ documentaries. Apart from a few VHS bootleg copies circulating in the 1980s and some illegal internet streaming, Cocksucker Blues has all but disappeared from the public sphere, and subsequently become a neglected artefact of both Robert Frank and the Rolling Stones.
Before Cocksucker Blues, in 1969, filmmakers Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin produced the riveting (and best) Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter. Following the band on the last ten days of their North American tour, it concentrates on their infamous December 6 Altamont Speedway free concert. Out of the three-hundred thousand who gathered, four were killed among whom was the eighteen-year-old black man, Meredith Hunter. Stabbed and bludgeoned by the Hells Angels, who the Stones hired as security, for the modest fee of $500 and a case of beer, this terrible incident overshadowed one of the greatest rock line-ups ever staged. Apart from the Rolling Stones, other acts included Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Shooting Hunter’s attack from the stage, the film’s camera crew captured the chaotic moment that saw a number of Angels jump into the crowd as the Stones played their hit song, ‘Under My Thumb’. In the aftermath, Jagger, had to explain why he did not walk off stage during the commotion or why he hired the Angels in the first place. Premiering on 6 December 1970, exactly one year since the horrific incident, Gimme Shelter gave the Stones a right of reply. In the film, Jagger sits with David Maysles at the editing table seemingly disturbed by the live footage that plays in flashback. ‘It looks like a scuffle… it’s just awful’, he harmlessly says. As Amy Taubin writes, ‘compared to the Angels and the kids crowding the stage, stoned on bad acid and speed, they seem like the good guys’. (1)
Some notes on Robert Frank
Before he began making movies, Robert Frank was a revered photographer. In the early 1950s, he worked for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Fortune. Always drawn to subjects in their natural setting, in 1955 he was awarded a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Over the next two years, Frank embarked on a journey across America with his family and camera. The result was a seminal publication of photography entitled, The Americans. First published in France, it featured eighty-three of Frank’s photographs and was accompanied by French writings, selected by French poet Alain Bosquet, about American political and social history. Grove Press in New York published the first English edition of The Americans in 1959. It presented the same photographs as the French edition, but a text by Jack Kerouac replaced the French writings. Frank also described the locations in some detail.
Frank’s compositions that featured jukeboxes, graves, urinals, bars, cafeterias and department stores, were innovative, and certainly, Frank’s celebration of black culture and other minorities during a period of intense segregation caused much controversy. In fact, Frank often pictured blacks mixing directly with whites, which at the time was unheralded. For instance, in one photograph, entitled ‘Trolley’, the passengers of a bus ignore the social rules that insisted blacks sit at the rear, and away from the whites. Here black and whites mix together, seemingly unfazed by the social constraints of the time. In another, entitled ‘Charleston, South Carolina’, a black woman holds a white newborn. Accused by critics as ‘sick’, Kerouac championed Frank’s work as ‘holy’. In the introduction of Frank’s American edition he declared
…unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand, he sucked a sad poem right out of America and on to film… To Robert Frank, I now give the message: You got eyes.
From 1959, Frank became more interested in the art of storytelling and turned his attention to filmmaking. For his first film (co-directed with Alfred Leslie), he directed the seminal short Pull My Daisy (1959), which was adapted from the third act of Kerouac’s play, Beat Generation (1957). Starring poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, Kerouac provided the film its improvised voice-of-god narration. Based on a group of artists who quiz a bishop about the meaning of life, it now is recognised as one of the most important works of the avant-garde cinema. In 1996, Pull My Daisy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Following this, Frank made other celebrated shorts such as The Sin of Jesus (1961) and O.K. End Here (1963), before he directed his first feature length film, Me and My Brother (1965), co-written with Sam Sheppard. This feature is a film within a film. Placing documentary footage of poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky within a fictional framework, it shifts between colour and black and white footage. Indeed, this film’s style and approach certainly becomes an interesting precursor to Cocksucker Blues, which also uses documentary footage and shifts between black and white film. Following Me and My Brother, Frank made some more shorts, which, although continued his interest with experimental documentaries, were more autobiographical. For instance, Conversations in Vermont (1969) explored Frank’s attempts to communicate with his teenage children, Pablo and Andrea by means of a collective story, that is told through Frank’s narration over filmed images and family photographs. Frank explained this film as “about the past… when Mary and I got married… the past and the present… Maybe this film is about growing older… some kind of a family album.”
In his next film, About Me: A Musical (1971), Frank made his most self-indulgent and narcissistic film to date. In the opening scene, Frank introduces an actress, Lynn Reyner as ”the young lady that is playing me.” She throws a stack of photographs onto the bed and says dismissively, “That’s my past.” The film explores issues of creativity, memory and self-fulfilment. To conclude the narrative, a street musician is asked, ‘If you had a camera and some film, what would you shoot?’ The musician answers, “about myself” before he begins to play, ‘Those were the days, my friend’. About Me was a film originally intended as a documentary about American music, but as Frank explained, “Well, fuck the music. I just decided to make a film about myself.” Frank’s next film, however, certainly explored issues of music within an American context.
Cocksucker Blues and the Rolling Stones
In 1971, the Rolling Stones had found themselves in all sorts of bother. Due to some bad management by Allen Klein, following the release of Sticky Fingers (1971), they owed more taxes than they could pay. Forced into exile, they fled the United Kingdom and lived a nomadic existence, mainly between the South of France and US. During this time, they recorded their double-album, which was appropriately entitled, Exile on Main Street. Including songs originally intended for their previous albums, Let it Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers, Exile is a rough and tinny sounding album that certainly captures the band’s raucous lifestyle from the time. Recorded mostly in Keith Richard’s mansion in the south of France, and produced by Jimmy Miller, it is hardly what many expected from the Stones. Absent of the polish or mainstream appeal of their previous albums, Exile was certainly a risky album to release, especially considering that the band’s future and stability was under significant question. Despite Exile on Main Street later being celebrated as one of their finest, at the time it was met with a mixed reaction. Indeed, Jagger’s voice sounds tired and worn, whereas the album itself lacks the imagination, direction and creativity of their previous few.
Jagger who had became friendly with Robert Frank whilst mixing the album in Los Angeles, asked him to design the cover. For the front, Frank chose a wall in a dingy New York City tattoo parlour, which was covered with photographs of strange and unusual people. He felt it illustrated the raucous jumble of the Stones’ recording. For the back, Frank filmed the Stones with his Super 8 camera, and then made stills out of the individual frames to match his original wall photograph. Jagger was impressed with Frank’s concept, and asked whether he would make a documentary of the band’s forthcoming American tour. Since their infamous Altamont concert, the Stones had not played in America. For Jagger, Frank personified the picturesque and romantic America that he loved. Yet, perhaps he had other reasons to ask Frank: since departing America in 1969, Jagger had feared threats against his life. Indeed, since Altamont, the Hells Angels were incensed that Jagger would not use them, as promised, as security for future American concerts. Indeed, Robert Greenfield’s 1974 book, A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones, that documents the 1972 tour, often discusses the various death threats that Jagger faced during this time. In fact, just before the tour began, Greenfield tells a story of four young girls accosting Jagger in a Los Angeles car park and asking whether he is afraid of being shot, to which he sincerely replies, “Yeah, I am”. (2) Maybe Jagger felt that a documentary crew might deter any would-be assassins. Or more vainly: capture his tragic end for the world to mourn.
Rolling with the Stones
The film’s title, ‘Cocksucker Blues’, that plays over its credit sequence, is taken from a Stones’ song which Jagger wrote to fulfil the group’s contractual obligations with Decca Records. Early in the film, the Stones’ auxiliary manager, Marshall Chess, explains Jagger’s intention to write a song that was “unreleasable’”. With lyrics that include, ‘I need to get my cock sucked… Where can I get my ass fucked?’, the Stones left Decca and formed their private label, Rolling Stones Records. Having also dumped Allen Klein as their manager, by the early seventies the band were becoming a more professional unit. Actually, Frank’s film documents the last real wild tour of the Stones. However, besides one brilliant performance of ‘Midnight Rambler’, Cocksucker Blues is not the brilliant tour film that many want to believe. And although film director, Jim Jamusch, may be right that it is “one of the best movies about rock and roll”, it is monotonous and dull. Indeed, scenes which depict the Stones as living an ugly, vacant and decadent existence, fuelled by their notorious cohort of drug dealers, groupies and celebrities are hardly enthralling. What’s more, in addition to the band themself, Frank is equally interested in the sleazy world of the groupies and crew who spend most of their time strung out in hotel rooms, often waiting for the band to turn up.
Demonstrated in one scene by Jagger’s then wife, Bianca, who sits sullenly in a corner, playing a musical box over and over, there is little to stimulate an intelligent or intellectual mind, and certainly, Frank paints a vivid, unattractive and monotonous portrait of the rock world. Shot mostly in black and white, with the concert footage filmed in colour, Cocksucker Blues is aesthetically ugly and barely watchable. In every sense, it is a dreadful and unpleasant viewing experience, that visually bears no resemblance to Frank’s other beautifully composed still and moving pictures.
Furthermore, unlike his other films, in Cocksucker Blues Frank depicts his characters as fairly shallow and insular, which is as much a departure for a Stones documentary as it is for Frank. Actually, while Jagger in Gimme Shelter, and more recently Being Mick (Kevin Macdonald and Jim Gable, 2001) and Shine a Light (Martin Scorsese, 2009) is given an opportunity to speak intelligently and insightfully about himself and his work, in Cocksucker Blues Frank exposes the pop star as a fairly banal personality. For instance, in one scene, an irritable and seemingly stoned Jagger, dressed in only his briefs, pretentiously babbles away, asking Frank a series of mundane questions, such as whether “he wears the same socks everyday?”.
However, such observations are more about Jagger and his broader cinematic presence than merely Frank’s pursuit to demystify the pop star. In fact, the contrast to scenes featuring Keith Richards is quite apparent. Opposed to Jagger, Richards is a compelling character who certainly relishes his role as ‘rock outlaw’. Whether it is throwing television sets off his hotel balcony or confusing the maître d’ with his obscure room service requests, Richards is never dull. Jagger though, unlike Richards, is a more complicated personality because he resists his ‘rock outlaw’ persona. Actually, at the time of this film, Jagger, who was living more of a high society glamorous lifestyle, in a poll compiled by over 200 international fashion editors was even named one of the best dressed men of 1972. (3) On stage, Jagger dressed in his flamboyant and camp jumpsuit, looks remarkably different to his band members, who dress like rockers in denim jeans, jackets and t-shirts. In fact, on stage the Stones look more like a Jagger backing band, than a unified rock group. But, according to Adam Blok, Jagger’s contrast to his band members and resistance to his rock outlaw role is symptomatic of the way he has always embraced contradiction: “the middle class student of economics playing leather tough; a white Brit singing black American music, a heterosexual who liked to flirt with boys”. (4)
In Cocksucker Blues, Jagger’s striking contradiction is how his stage and private personas seem almost unrecognisable. As Truman Capote remarked in an interview with Andy Warhol about the 1972 tour:
He’s one of the few people I’ve seen who’s able to do the extrovert thing, and then revert into another person almost instantly. And so, in that sense, he’s really an extraordinary actor. And that’s exactly what he is because: a) he can’t sing; b) he can’t dance; c) he doesn’t know a damn thing about music. But he does know about coming on and being a great showman. (5)
As commentators often note, Jagger’s peculiar personality, has continued to make him an awkward cinematic presence. Writing on the film Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1969), Adrian Danks felt that Jagger is unlike many of his pop star contemporaries: “Whereas Dylan and The Beatles engage and command the camera, and the space and people around them, Jagger’s presence and his performances are much more undecided, uncommanding even.” (6) In Performance and other films such as Ned Kelly (Tony Richardson, 1970), Jagger is incapable of channelling the charismatic and alluring Jagger stageman, and interestingly, in both these films, Jagger’s only moment of illumination comes when the narratives allow him to perform a musical interlude: ‘Memo to Turner’ in Performance and ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ in Ned Kelly.
In Cocksucker Blues, despite Jagger featuring more prominently than the other Stones, Frank refrains from making him the star. In fact, Frank devotes equal time to the assortment of degenerates who travel along with the tour. Hanging mostly around hotel rooms, their stories and general conversations are dull and quite excruciating to endure. Curiously though, Frank makes no distinction between these figures and the die-hard fans of the band, who seem just as degenerate and drug dependant. For instance, one fan outside the venue and without a ticket, describes herself as a very ‘sad’ and ‘lonesome’ person, after the authorities took away her ‘acid baby’: “what’s wrong with a mother on acid, who loves her child… she was born on acid?”, she disturbingly remarks. Yet, within the context of the film, this character does not seem any more disturbing from the groupies, band and crew who shoot up in their hotel rooms and sniff cocaine backstage. Like the vacant world of these characters, Frank’s film is insular and claustrophobic. Moving between hotels, rock venues, cars, and in one scene, an airplane, which includes the film’s most gratuitous scene of group sex, the touring party are constantly confined within closed spaces.
For a band celebrated as ‘rock outlaws’, there is something very constrictive and paradoxical about their existence. Actually, apart from the few exciting snippets of live clips, there is nothing all that exhilarating or electrifying about the Rolling Stones. No wonder Capote said that the Stones did nothing to “excite his imagination” and refused to write on them for Rolling Stone magazine. Furthermore, Cocksucker Blues does nothing to fetishise and mythologise the Stones, and really, it comes in direct contrast to Gimme Shelter that depicts the band as the ‘good guys’. In fact, regardless of the 1972 tour being their most successful to date, that also attracted many positive reviews and brought a number of high profile celebrities to the shows, Frank concentrates almost exclusively on the seedier, lonely and unpleasant moments.
An issue of copyright
Running at ninety-three minutes, Cocksucker Blues was scheduled for an 18 November 1972 release; however, after watching Robert Frank’s rough-cut, Jagger demanded that it not be shown, on account of its “heavy scenes”. (7) At the time, Jagger was reported to have said,
Why can’t (Robert Frank) go and do something else? It was my idea of making that stupid movie. He was just paid to film what I told him to do… it’s our movie. And if I want to go shred it in the shredder, or if I want to show it to my friends, or if I want to put it in general release, it’s up to me. (8)
Frank claimed that as director of the material, he was its true author, and therefore the copyright belonged to him. Taking the matter to court, the judge peculiarly ruled that the film could screen just once a year and only if Robert Frank was in attendance. As well, Frank was instructed to insert an absurd disclaimer at the start of his film, that implied the lewd antics were merely staged for the camera. Despite Frank’s other films, such as Pull my Daisy and Me and My Brother, blurring fiction and reality, Cocksucker Blues is a completely different sort of film. As evident by the footage, this is not the Stones playing it up for the camera, but the camera exposing their seedy and decadent lifestyle. Indeed, this disclaimer does not fool anyone.
For many reasons, its public banning was incredibly ironic and contradictory, especially considering that Jagger once remarked, “I am not a librarian of my own work. It’s a good thing not to be too involved with what you have done.” (9) However, as I have discussed, Jagger’s contradictions make him such a peculiar and awkward personality. Whereas Jagger opposed Mary Whitehouse’s quest to ban Exile on Main Street, due to “obscenities on two tracks”, less than a year later, he successfully banned Robert Frank’s film because of its own ‘obscenities’ and ‘vulgarity’. (10) Whitehouse never commented publicly on this film or its banning, but surely, she felt that Jagger had become an unlikely ally.
Still, despite their efforts, not helping the Stones’ reputation was the 1974 release of Robert Greenfield’s book of the tour, which also did not shy from the more compromising moments, such as the drug taking and group sex. But as Greenfield acknowledges about the Stones, in the preface of his revised 2002 edition, “to their credit that I never heard a single discouraging word from them about the book.” (11) Considering that this was the first full-length book on a rock tour, and only fifteen-hundred copies were initially published, the Stones probably felt that Greenfield’s book was not much of a threat.
What’s more, in 1974 another film of the tour was released. Entitled, Ladies and Gentlemen… The Rolling Stones (Rollin Binzer), it featured concert footage from four shows in Ft. Worth and Houston, Texas. Different from Frank’s documentary, this is a straight concert movie. Shot on 16mm, the film was blown up to 35mm and premiered in New York on 1 March 1974. It was voted by Creem Magazine as the best rock movie of 1974. (12) In its initial theatrical run, it was released in Quadrasound, which was intended to give a 200-seat motion picture theatre auditorium the atmosphere of a rock ‘n’ roll arena. Onstage the flirtatious Jagger is at his alluring and captivating best, but the film’s real star is Mick Taylor whose guitar playing is magnificent, and absolutely, the band’s tours and albums significantly digressed once he departed at the end of 1974.
Still, Ladies and Gentlemen can never be anything more than a very good concert film and really Cocksucker Blues provides the most revealing document of their 1972 American tour. In 2010, the Stones included eleven minutes of its footage in a BBC documentary commissioned to coincide with the re-release of Exile on Main Street. Entitled Stones in Exile (Stephen Kijak), it also features a variety of unseen photographs taken during the recording session by French music photographer Dominique Tarle. To bookend the film, prominent figures, such as musician Jack White and film director Martin Scorsese, discuss the cultural significance and their own personal love of the album. Kijak’s film also includes recent interviews with the Stones’ members, who are used as a voice-over to narrate the film.
Stones Jagger, Richards and Charlie Watts, are credited as the film’s executive producers, and certainly, since Cocksucker Blues, Jagger has been a more dominant (and controlling) presence behind the camera. In 2001, Jagger’s production company, Jagged Films, produced the year long chronicle of his life, Being Mick, whereas in 2009 Jagger was executive producer on Martin Scoresese’s concert film of the Stones, Shine A Light. Jagger and Scorsese are currently collaborating on a project that is roughly based on the Richards/Jagger relationship. Entitled ‘The Long Play’, Jagged Films will produce. Indeed, Jagger’s various film projects are all quite interesting, but sadly, none has the opportunity (or permission) to expose the Stones quite like Cocksucker Blues. For many reasons, Frank’s film remains a welcomed and revealing contrast to the expected representation of the Stones.
Probably the film that shares the strongest comparison to Cocksucker Blues is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil), which despite also being monotonous, dull and far from compelling, demystifies the Stones. Set against the backdrop of 1960s counterculture, it really is two films set in one. Amongst scenes of abstract fictional vignettes probing topics such as black power, pornography and celebrity, Godard cuts to segments of the Stones recording sections of their hit song, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. However, different from Frank, Godard is not interested in the chaos that surrounds the band. In the studio, the Stones are proficient and professional, and absent of any groupies and hard drugs. Like Cocksucker Blues, Godard demystifies the glamour of the rock world, but differently, he paints a generous and professional portrait of the Rolling Stones.
As with Godard, Frank is certainly an intelligent and sophisticated visionary as his book The Americans and films demonstrate, but the milieu he depicts in Cocksucker Blues is aesthetically ugly, crass and revolting. Frank’s documentary is riveting viewing because it is unlike any other Stones documentary, or for that matter, any other documentary about a rock tour (with the exception of D A Pennebaker’s 1966 Bob Dylan banned tour film, Eat the Document). Made before the Stones transformed from a chaotic rock band and into a multimillion-dollar touring band of rock stadiums, it illustrates them as wild and lewd rock exiles. What’s more, Cocksucker Blues captures perhaps the final really great moment of the Rolling Stones. Immediately after this tour, still exiled from the UK, and refusing to sort out their tax issues, they travelled to Kingston, Jamaica where at Dynamic Sound Studios they began to record Goat’s Head Soup (1973), which apart from ‘Angie’, is a significantly inferior album. In review of it, rock critic Lester Bangs wrote, “there is a sadness about the Stones now, because they amount to such an enormous ‘So what?’ The sadness comes when you measure not just one album, but the whole sense they’re putting across now against what they once meant.” (13)
A few years later, Mick Taylor had had enough and quit, only to be replaced by Ronnie Woods, who, although more of a showman, was an inferior guitarist. Over the next decade, the Stones albums would continue to reach Number 1 around the world and their tours would continue to sell-out, but sadly, they became a parody of their former selves, and never would they make records of the same cultural value as those produced before 1972. Indeed, their 1977 album Love you Live, taken from shows across America in 1975, 76 and 77 pales in comparison to the live footage from Ladies and Gentlemen… or the live album of their 1969 American tour, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out (1970). As Lester Bangs surely would agree, Cocksucker Blues documents the Rolling Stones when they stood for ‘something’.
Some more notes on Robert Frank
In 1974, Robert Frank’s daughter, Andrea, was killed in a plane crash in Tikal, Guatemala. Then just a few years later, his son Pablo was diagnosed with schizophrenia and subsequently died at Allentown, Pennsylvania hospital in 1994. As I previously mentioned, both Andrea and Pablo appear in Frank’s 1969 short Conversations in Vermont. Having moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1975 Frank returned to filmmaking with the aptly titled short, Keep Busy, which follows a group of lonely people living on an island off Nova Scotia. Reminiscent of Me and My Brother it meshes moments of documentary with fiction. In description of this film, Frank said, “I am filming the outside in order to look inside.” However, he could just as easily argue that he ‘filmed the inside in order to look out’. Indeed, since the death of Andrea he became more reclusive in his work, and certainly, the road trips that defined his early career (The Americans, About Me, Cocksucker Blues) became absent from his later work. Following this film, in 1980 Frank made his most personal film, Life Dances On, which deals directly with family and the loss of his daughter. Dedicated to Andrea, it also features Pablo.
Over the ensuing years, Frank has continued to make short films. His most recent is True Story (2004), which features Frank narrating footage of his home in Nova Scotia in addition to clips from his earlier films and still photographs. Also featuring an old letter written by his son Pablo, this 26 minute short is a poignant and fitting summation of his lifelong dedication to the visual arts. Now at age eighty-five, Frank is celebrated as a national treasure of American culture. The subject of many books (Frank Films (Burger-Utzer and Grissemann, 2003)) and art exhibitions, in 2004 the Tate Modern, London welcomed Frank at the launch of Robert Frank Storylines. Featuring the most extensive collection of Frank’s still images, it became the subject of a book. Compiled by Ian Penman it includes essays by Philip Brookman and Sam Shepard. Focusing on Frank’s approach to narrative and storytelling, in photography and film, it features polaroids, contact sheets, and recent digital stills. Inspired by this exhibition, Frank in 2009 published his own book of still images. Entitled, Portfolio, it includes a number of Frank’s rarer and unpublished photographs, alongside the work of other photographers, which he had retouched, and organised into seven different sequences.
Portfolio is actually part of Steidl’s ‘Robert Frank Project’, that they describe as an ‘ambitious long term publishing programme which encompasses Robert Frank’s complete oeuvre’. Steidl are certainly making Frank’s work accessible and available, and importantly, Frank has directly overseen the reprint of each work. In addition to the reissue of many books, The Complete Film Works is a ten volume DVD series that includes his twenty-five films, in NTSC and PAL formats, neatly packaged in a film-roll-box slipcase with a booklet of detailed annotations. Sadly, Cocksucker Blues does not appear, however, in substitute, Volume 3 includes footage of the Rolling Stones in New York City filmed on Frank’s 8mm camera for the cover of Exile on Main Street. Discussing this Stones clip, Chris Robé, recognised that even before Frank made his controversial documentary he was not entirely compelled by his subject:
The first half of its footage offers a percussive montage of the Stones posing, preening, and strutting throughout Greenwich Village to the narcissistic soundtrack secretly rattling through their heads. But as the camera grows bored with the band’s rote rock ‘n’ roll antics, it begins to coast to the homeless windshield wiper men who deftly negotiate city traffic like urban bullfighters using their rags as capes. We witness a deadly ballet as these men balance their lives against oncoming cars from narrow traffic lines, hailing down unlikely customers with a twirl of cloth. They transform the streets into their stage and, in turn, expose the Stones as out of their league, who have long since been jettisoned by the film anyway. (14)
Apart from this five-minute clip of the Stones in New York City and the eleven minutes of Cocksucker Blues used in Stones in Exile, Frank’s original film has become a discarded, neglected and forgotten film. And still, despite numerous appeals, Cocksucker Blues can only ‘legally’ screen in the presence of Frank himself. Although copies are (momentarily) appearing on internet streaming sites, albeit in a fairly grainy, censored and fragmented form, Cocksucker Blues sadly remains an inaccessible and overlooked artefact of popular culture. See it while (and if) you can!
This article has been peer reviewed
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- Greenfield, R. (2002) A Journey Through America with The Rolling Stones, Cambridge, Da Capo Press. p. 21
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- Bonanno, p. 117
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- Bonanno, p. 116
- Greenfield, p. xi
- Bonanno, p. 136
- Bangs, L. (1996) Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. G. Marcus (Ed.) New York, Alfred A. Fnopf Inc.
- Robé, C. (2008) ‘Robert Frank: The Complete Film Works: Volumes 1, 2 & 3’. Pop Matters, August.