Music videos old and new
What pop musicians do once they get inside the cathode-ray world can be as different as the music they make on the outside. You might think bands of the ’60s were too overwhelmed by the stodgy institution of television to try any funny business, and that today’s alterna-rock tycoons have the medium under their thumbs. And you’d be wrong. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a long-lost historical artifact that just made its world premiere at this year’s New York Film Festival, is an uncommonly great piece of music television, while R.E.M.’s Road Movie brings nothing new to the classic concert-video format.
In December 1968, the Rolling Stones invited some peers in the British rock monarchy to a London TV studio done up as a one-ring big top. There, the costumed Stones were joined by, among others, John Lennon and Eric Clapton (who served as half of an ad hoc quartet, the Dirty Mac, with Keith Richards on bass and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell), aerialists, and a fire-eater. Under the sympathetic directorial eye of Michael Lindsay-Hogg (who would helm the Beatles’ Let It Be two years later), this stellar company made a remarkable 65-minute special for British television that, amazingly, never aired. (The Stones were reportedly — if incomprehensibly — dissatisfied with their live segment and blocked the show’s screening.)
Hijacking the medium long before it would be handed to them on an MTV platter, the collegial rockers entertain themselves in a casual marvel of sheepish giggles and missed cues that only intensify the unguarded force of intimate and exceptional performances, such as the Who doing their ”A Quick One (While He’s Away),” the Dirty Mac singing Lennon and McCartney’s ”Yer Blues,” and the Stones playing their own ”No Expectations.” The Rolling Stones’ next stop: stadiums, where such human-scale tomfoolery would no longer be tolerated.
Musicians have been exploring television’s creative possibilities ever since, but it’s hard to discern any signs of progress in R.E.M.’s Road Movie. Shot with quick-cut urgency in Atlanta at the end of 1995’s Monster tour, the quartet — never the world’s most exciting live band — showcases one of its least-engaging albums in the flickering light of strobes and inscrutable projections of arty shorts. Those who liked the show will find this jittery replay a vivid souvenir; the video’s inclusion of a few oldies is the extent of its appeal for fans of R.E.M.’s earlier melodiousness. You can’t always get what you want…. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus: A Road Movie: C