|The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus|
|Directed by||Michael Lindsay-Hogg|
|Produced by||Sandy Leiberson|
|Starring||The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, the Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, the Dirty Mac, Yoko Ono, Sir Robert Fossett's Circus and the Nurses.|
|Cinematography||Anthony B. Richmond|
|Edited by||Ruth Foster, Robin Klein|
(New York Film Festival),
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus is a film released in 1996 of an 11 December 1968 event organized by the Rolling Stones. The event comprised two concerts on a circus stage and included such acts as the Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, and Jethro Tull. John Lennon and his fiancee Yoko Ono performed as part of a supergroup called the Dirty Mac, along with Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards. The original line up was going to be the Small Faces, the Rolling Stones and the Who and the concept of a circus was first thought up between Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC, but the Rolling Stones withheld it. The Stones contended they did so due to their substandard performance, because they had taken the stage early in the morning and were clearly exhausted. Many others believe that the true reason for not releasing the video was that the Who, who were fresh off a concert tour, upstaged the Stones on their own production. Led Zeppelin were also originally considered but the idea was also dropped.
The project was originally conceived by Mick Jagger as a way of branching out from conventional records and concert performances. Jagger approached Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had directed two promos for Stones songs (and would go on to direct the Beatles' Let It Be documentary), to make a full-length TV show for them. According to Lindsay-Hogg, the idea of combining rock music and a circus setting came to him when he was trying to come up with ideas; he drew a circle on a piece of paper and free-associated.
The Stones and their guests performed in a replica of a seedy big top on a British sound stage—the Intertel (V.T.R. Services) Studio, Wycombe Road, Wembley —in front of an invited audience. The performances began at around 2 pm on 11 December 1968, but setting up between acts took longer than planned and the cameras kept breaking down, which meant that the final performances took place at almost 5 o'clock the next morning.
By that time the audience and most of the Stones were exhausted; Jagger's sheer stamina managed to keep them going until the end. Jagger was reportedly so disappointed with his and the band's performance that he cancelled the airing of the film, and kept it from public view. Pete Townshend recalled:
When they really get moving, there is a kind of white magic that starts to replace the black magic, and everything starts to really fly. That didn't happen on this occasion; there's no question about that. They weren't just usurped by The Who, they were also usurped by Taj Mahal – who was just, as always, extraordinary. They were usurped to some extent by the event itself: the crowd by the time the Stones went on were radically festive.
This was the last public performance of Brian Jones with the Rolling Stones, and for much of the Stones performance he is inaudible, although his slide guitar on "No Expectations", maracas on "Sympathy for the Devil", and rhythm guitar on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" remain clear. Ian Anderson remarked:
Poor old Brian Jones was well past his sell-by date by then… We spoke to Brian and he didn't really know what was going on. He was rather cut off from the others – there was a lot of embarrassed silence. But a delightful chap, and we felt rather sorry for him… I was approached for an interview by a chap from Record Mirror… I inadvertently remarked that the Stones were a bit under-rehearsed and that poor old Brian Jones couldn't even tune his guitar, which was literally the truth but a bit tactless and inappropriate for me to say. This was duly reported, whereupon Mick Jagger was mightily upset. I had to send a grovelling apology to his office.
According to Bill Wyman's book, Rolling with the Stones, the Stones also performed "Confessing the Blues", "Route 66" and an alternative take of "Sympathy for the Devil" with Brian Jones on guitar.
The project was abandoned until Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg attempted to edit the film in 1992 but, due to missing principal footage, the project was put on hold. Some of the footage of the concert was thought to be lost or destroyed until 1993, when it was discovered in a bin in the Who's private film vault by Director/Producer team Michael Gochanour and Robin Klein. Subsequent to their discovery, Gochanour/Klein completed the unfinished film in fall of 1996.
A significant segment, featuring The Who, had been shown theatrically in the documentary The Kids Are Alright (1979), the only public viewing of the film until its eventual release. The Stones' film was restored, edited, and finally released on CD and video in 1996. Included on the recordings are the introductions for each act, including some entertaining banter between Jagger and Lennon.
This concert is the only footage of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi performing as a member of Jethro Tull, during his brief tenure as replacement for Mick Abrahams and at the same time the first footage of the band ever made (no live footage of the original Tull lineup exists). The band mimed to the album version of "A Song for Jeffrey" and "Fat Man" (so the guitar part is actually of Abrahams, and not Iommi's) as the Stones told them to cut their time down and it would save time on rehearsing, although Ian Anderson sings live on "A Song For Jeffrey". "Fat Man" never made the final release, although it is not unreasonable to assume he also sang that live, as the version which appears on the 1969 Stand Up album was recorded later. This footage also included some of Ian Anderson's first attempts of his now famous flute-playing position, with one leg in the air.
In a 1996 review, Janet Maslin lauded the "sleek young Stones in all their insolent glory presiding over this uneven but ripely nostalgic show"; although "rumor had it that the Stones... thought they looked tired and felt upstaged by the high-energy Who", "it hardly looks that way as Mick Jagger's fabulous performance nearly turns this into a one-man show." She called Jethro Tull's performance a "shaky start" by "arguably the most unbearable band of their day", said The Who "turn up early and stop traffic, delivering a fiery [performance]", and notes Yoko Ono's "glass-shattering shrieks" are "dutifully" backed by the Dirty Mac. She calls the concert-ending sing-along of "Salt of the Earth" smug and condescending, a "song about little people living in the real world".
A DVD version, produced by Gochanour/Klein, was released in October 2004, with audio remixed into Dolby Surround by Michael Gochanour and co-producer Robin Klein. The DVD includes footage of the show, along with extra features directed by Gochanour and Klein, which include previously "lost" performances, an interview with Pete Townshend, and three audio commentaries. Of particular interest in the Townshend interview is his description of the genesis of the Circus project, which he claims was initially meant to involve the performers travelling across the United States via train (a concept used for a short concert series in Canada that was later documented in the feature film Festival Express). The remastered DVD also includes a special four-camera view of The Dirty Mac's performance of the Beatles' "Yer Blues" (showing Yoko Ono kneeling on the floor in front of the musicians, completely covered in a black sheet).