The directors: Peter Whitehead on filming The Rolling Stones
In 1965, Peter Whitehead travelled to Dublin with The Rolling Stones to make ’Charlie Is My Darling‘ – a film that now lingers on the shelf because of legal issues and so won‘t be seen at the NFT‘s March season dedicated to a filmmaker who was at the heart of London‘s 1960s music scene
It was 1965 and I had finished ‘Wholly Communion’, which is my film
about the beat poet convention at the Royal Albert Hall, and it was
going to be shown in the Academy Cinema on Oxford Street. The film had
a bit of a reputation because the event was so spectacular: 7,000
turned up and 7,000 were turned away. And then I get a phone call and a
strange voice asks: ‘Is that Peter Whitehead?’ He said: ‘It’s Andrew
Loog Oldham.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m Peter Lorrimor Whitehead.’ I had
no idea who he was. ‘I’m the manager of The Rolling Stones.’ I laughed
a bit. He said he’d heard of ‘Wholly Communion’ and wanted to meet me:
‘Can I send a car?’
Author: Dave Calhoun
A car arrives and takes me from my flat in Soho to his office in Marylebone. I walk in and he is surrounded by acolytes at a big table. ‘People have told me of this amazing film that you shot of this poetry-reading. But listen: is it true that you have a camera that is completely silent?’ I said: ‘Yes, it’s true, it’s a new camera from France and it’s called the Eclair.’ ‘You don’t use a tripod?’ ‘No’. ‘You don’t use lights?’ ‘No.’ ‘What about sound?’ ‘Well, you have a little recorder with a microphone and it’s attached to the camera with a long wire.’ ‘Hmm. Would you like to film the Stones?’
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d never listened to a Rolling Stones record in my life. I was listening to Janácek and Bartók at the time. But I said, ‘Yes – but why?’ The obvious answer was that I could film with minimum technology and so it was an attractive idea. This was Monday, and we chatted a bit, and he said: ‘OK, we’re going to Dublin and Belfast on Friday, for a two-day tour. How much do you need?’ ‘Two thousand pounds.’ He wrote a cheque.
I arrived at the offices of The Rolling Stones at half eight on the Friday morning with my crew – my ex-wife as the script girl and Anthony Stern, my assistant – and was introduced to Mick, Keith and the boys. We jumped in a car and drove to the airport. I started filming. Each of the band was very different. Brian Jones kept on looking at me and smiling, making sure that he was looking good. Bill was very self-effacing. Mick and Keith were totally unconcerned, as was Charlie. They didn’t talk. They weren’t going to cultivate me. I think I had too posh an accent. We flew to Dublin and went straight to the theatre.
There’s one scene in the film – which I called ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ after the folk song that The Stones sing in one scene – which for me is one of the best things I’ve ever filmed. The band is crammed into this little dressing-room and Brian and Charlie are fooling around, and then Keith picks up his guitar and starts to play. He sings a southern blues song so beautifully and with such control, and I remember thinking: Bloody hell, he can really play. He was a musician. It was my introduction to popular music and rock ’n’ roll, and I went on to make a lot of music films, with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd among others.
Author: Dave Calhoun
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