SAN FRANCISCO — They started lining up hours before the film was scheduled to begin, and by midnight they were massed six abreast down Castro Street for two blocks, waiting to see the legendary Rolling Stones movie Cocksucker Blues. It was a classic Stones crowd – intense, drunk, stumbling, often raucous. But those who got into the Castro Theater were going to be deprived of the catharsis they were expecting from the Stones, for Cocksucker Blues is a legend not because it's the greatest rock & roll movie ever made – in fact, it's distressingly forgettable – but simply because it's almost never shown.
Cocksucker is a savage documentary of the Stones' 1972 U.S. tour – disorganized, meandering, painful to watch. It begins with Marshall Chess playing a tape of Jagger singing "Cocksucker Blues," a song written for a porno album to go along with a stage play called The Trials of Oz. From there on out, the 90-minute film is either disconcertingly inertial or disconcertingly grabbing: the Stones' ennui is as hard to watch as scenes of junkies, groupie orgies and backstage chaos. Only the brief concert scenes stick with the viewer – particularly one of Jagger and Stevie Wonder dancing during a performance of "Satisfaction." For the most part, the film is distant and cold as death; the Stones' distance – from members of the tour, from each other, from hangers-on like Andy Warhol and Lee Radziwill – is monolithic ("Bloody bunch of voyeurs," Jagger snaps at a photographer). In the end, all that remains is the music, and even that is as unreal as the quadraphonic sterility of the film ultimately released to chronicle the 1972 tour – Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones.
Cocksucker Blues was shown last year, unannounced, at the Pacific Film Archive's "Music and the Movies" series. On the weight of that successful showing, the Berkeley-based Archive's Tom Luddy persuaded filmmaker Robert Frank to show the film again at this year's series, announced. The response was so overwhelming that two additional shows had to be added – a bold act, since the Stones, not Frank, hold the film rights and have never authorized its release.
Frank, a Swiss photographer who connected with the Stones when photos from his books, The Americans and Lines of My Hand, were used to illustrate the Stones' Exile on Main Street album, was in town to speak about Cocksucker Blues and to keep an eye on his print. A short, disheveled-looking man in his 40s with a three-days' growth of beard, Frank seemed bothered by the attention, flipping out offhand responses to questions ("There's only one question I like to answer," he said in his sole comment at one screening. "My name is Robert Frank"). What, the audience wanted to know, was it all really like?
"What goes on on the tour was worse than what you see," said Frank. The tour, he added, "was a hard trip to survive, but I was never disgusted.
"I didn't follow the whole tour – you get involved in a trip like this and you get so strung out it's impossible to work… and it shows. I'm told that Keith Richard liked the film, but his attitude is, he doesn't really care. He liked it better than Jagger.
"A few scenes were changed when the Stones first saw the film, then they wanted more changes and I just left it. They thought there was too much emphasis on drugs – Jagger was afraid that if the movie was shown, he wouldn't be allowed to visit the States.
'What goes on on the tour is worse than what you see.'
"What keeps the film from being released are several legal problems – Stevie Wonder, for instance, won't sign a release – but I show it once every year, so something is bound to happen. When I told Jagger Cocksucker Blues was to be the title, he was annoyed," concludes Frank. "But that was 1972; now it's 1976, and soon nobody will be annoyed."
This story is from the December 30th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.