‘Is it cold in here? I’m a bit cold.’
Mick Jagger, in a skin-tight stage suit displaying his gaunt chest and an ornate cross around his neck, is drenched in sweat. You can’t hear the crowd respond. Are they delirious, or puzzled?
“Ladies & Gentlemen” on a 300-square-metre open air screen in Vienna
Until now I’d never heard of the Rolling Stones’ 1974 concert movie Ladies & Gentlemen. Drawing on performances from four 1972 concerts in Texas, it was released in quadrophonic sound (remember that?)… then disappeared.
Most concert movies are boring. This one – not so much. It helps if you know the music, from Brown Sugar and Gimme Shelter to Dead Flowers, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Midnight Rambler, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. The band, and Jagger in particular, close-up in glorious colour, are almost an artwork. And it’s short – 83 minutes – cutting from one song to the next without tedious crowd reaction and padding.
Ladies & Gentlemen is a reminder of the longevity of the Stones. I remember seeing this odd promotional video on Top of the Pops when It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It) came out in 1974 thinking that they were past it.
That was 43 years ago.
The way the group keep re-inventing themselves is maybe their most impressive feature and should be an inspiration to us all. Repeatedly written off, they re-emerge, butterfly-like, in new forms – e.g. a revival in the early ’80s with the release of Some Girls, including Far Away Eyes, one of my favourite, and funniest, Stones tracks as well as most profane.
The Wikipedia entry is a catalogue of the band surviving alcohol, drugs, artistic differences and countless more or less bizarre crises (2006: Keith Richard hospitalised for cranial surgery after a fall from a tree in Fiji, where he had been on holiday) year after year. Check it out for fascinating stuff such as a timeline of which band members were in the band for which years (only Jagger and Keith Richards throughout); and forgotten controversies such as Margaret Trudeau (wife of then-premier Pierre Trudeau and mother of current premier Justin – what is it with our attachment to political dynasties?) being seen partying with the band after a show in 1977 – when Justin was presumably 5 – and Richards had been detained for drugs offences.
Enough Rolling Stones – Ed. I sign off with two links between the Stones and Oscar Wilde. Supposedly, the video which accompanied the song We Love You, released in 1967 as a thank-you for loyalty shown by fans after their brief incarceration on (other) drugs charges, contains references to Oscar Wilde (who was sentenced in 1895 to two years’ hard labour for homosexuality, breaking his health). I’ve watched the video but any such allusions are pretty hard to see. If you can identify them, please write in the comments.
Finally, Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Grey is based on a Faustian bargain. The eponymous hero, believing that beauty and sensuality are all that matter, is so struck by a portrait of himself that he sells his soul in exchange for the picture, rather than him, ageing. He then lives a hedonistic lifestyle and remains young and beautiful while his picture, in the attic, becomes corrupted as he sins. The book opens with a series of epigrams (e.g. “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim”; “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all”). It closes with a splendid dark climax.
It is rumoured that Keith Richards also has a picture in his attic. This has become younger and more beautiful as the real Keith Richards submits his body to decades of hard and extraordinary living. You have to respect the man. Here is a artwork of him at Vienna Airport:
Keith Richards – a portrait at Vienna Airport
Overall, I’d give Ladies & Gentlemen 8/10:
For: a time capsule of 1972; concise; loud; a must for Stones fans.
Against: hard going for non-fans. Sounds quality at the Rathausplatz was not terrific.
P.S. If you would like to see a 10-second clip of Ladies & Gentleman, take a look at my Instagram account. Feel free to follow.