Turning Over Stones: 'The Rolling Stones: Rare and Unseen'

Is there anything left to discover about the World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band?

The Rolling Stones: Rare and Unseen

Distributor: MVD
Cast: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Mick Taylor, Jools Holland
Release Date: 2010-05-06

Is there anything left to discover about the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band? A half-century into their seemingly interminable career, the answer would seem to be no. How many more times can we marvel at Jagger’s Jack LaLanne-ish vitality – as I did two years ago while watching Shine A Light -- or snicker at Keith’s leathery decrepitude?

Apparently, however, MVD Visual is betting that the band’s legions – no, generations of devotees - still hunger for more behind-the-scenes tidbits, as they’ve released this The Rolling Stones: Rare and Unseen on DVD. It isn’t a concert film, nor should it be, as the Stones have at least eight(!) of such under their belts, surely a record no other artist can match.

This non-performance documentary – and the group has notched a few of those as well – contains over an hour of assorted clips, most allegedly not widely seen before. The footage isn’t limited to a particular era, but instead spans decades, from their early years of seducing Britain’s teen populace while scandalizing the starchy establishment to the middle-aged mega-stardom of the '80s onward. Refreshingly, there’s no chronological linearity in the film, so it’s impossible to predict what will come next, although that may be maddening to some viewers.

Scenes of the 20-something Stones, captured incessantly by BBC TV, are rendered in black-and-white, and we see a fresh-faced, pouty-lipped Mick, a vaguely androgynous figure who wouldn’t look out of place in the lightly-scented front pages of Vanity Fair, or a Merchant/Ivory drawing room drama, for that matter. His wavy tresses still notably short, one feels an aura of innocence surrounding him, holding at bay the flamboyant satyr Michael Phillip Jagger would become. It’s easy to understand his initial puppy dog cuteness to young women – and perhaps a few males – of that period. Indeed, the film reveals that fan adulation was at its hysterical peak during their formative years.

Of course, the star-crossed Brian Jones is also presented, and it seems odd now that this pasty, unassuming man was the centerpiece of the Stones, that the quintet was originally perceived as his band, but that was the group’s beginning configuration. Following his untimely and still-mysterious death in 1969, Jones was supplanted by the estimable Mick Taylor, whose expert strumming enlivened Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, and the stellar 1970 live disc Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, not bad work if you can get it. Taylor appears twice in the film, as a boyish, teen idol-like youngster stepping aboard for the band’s legendary 1969 free concert in London’s Hyde Park, a putative tribute to Jones, and later reminisces about his short but dazzlingly productive stint with the Stones, a tenure which produced some of their sharpest material.

The Rolling Stones have never been strangers to controversy, but "Rare and Unseen", unfortunately, skirts the group’s darker episodes, although it does include an interview in which Jagger and director Julien Temple defend the band’s 1983 video for “Undercover of the Night”, which features a hooded captive being shot through the head at point blank range by a soldier. Many viewers felt the promo glamorized violence at a time when films and television shows were amping-up carnage, and its multiple airings on then-exploding MTV only reinforced the perception that the network was a wellspring for cinematic bloodletting.

Although the Stones probably racked up more film footage than any other musical outfit in history, they never dabbled in narrative cinema, with the exception of Jagger, who has appeared in several movies since his 1970 debut in Nicholas Roeg’s eccentric Performance, and he discusses his film work with veteran host and musician Jools Holland. In the early '80s, Jagger was slated to appear in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, but that deal came apart, and he concedes to Holland that he’s had difficulty finding the “right sorts of films”, a problem exacerbated by the Stones’ hectic schedule. We later see the band at the glittery Berlin Film Festival, accompanied by Martin Scorsese, and despite Keith Richards’ splashy turn as Captain Sparrow’s paterfamilias,sending up his own image as a weatherbeaten old sod, one realizes that the group’s cinematic legacy is restricted to the concert stage.

Though occasionally engrossing, The Rolling Stones: Rare and Unseen is a must only for dyed-in-the-wool fans, and even they may wish there was more music in the doc; one wonders if that was a tangled rights issue there. It’s also unhelpful that no dates are ever mentioned for the clips we see, so the viewer is left to speculate. The film presents a lifetime of interviews, and I chuckle slightly while noting how various members, including Jagger, have aged, looking rather craggy and gaunt-faced as they slide into – dare I say – their elderly years.

Drummer Charlie Watts, unlike some of his bandmates, has allowed his hair to go snowy, perhaps appropriate as he has suggested that he’s ready to pack it up whenever the Glimmer Twins give the go-ahead. Watts has always nursed a greater affection for jazz – he’s seen browsing in a Shaftesbury jazz record shop -- while nonetheless enjoying a lifetime in rock most can only dream of. Could it be that he’s more comfortable with his advancing age than his flashier comrades?

The Stones doc most fans are still yearning for is 1972’s Cocksucker Blues, and a few minutes of that now-legendary flick are included in the high-zoot re-release package of “Exile”. Though many who have seen it consider it tame by today’s standards, it apparently frightened the band at the time of its production, and their attorneys had it summarily banned, a prohibition which still stands, with scant exception. While The Rolling Stones: Rare and Unseen is mildly diverting, Cocksucker Blues looms over it like a dismissive specter.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.