In the music business, excavations are no longer limited to the CD vaults. Four never-before-seen rock & roll documentaries, newly revived, are currently in theaters or headed to video shelves. Among the draws: All just happen to showcase vintage performances of deceased rock idols. Call it a stare way to heaven.
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
Shot in 1968
What it is: A shelved British TV special featuring the Who, John Lennon, the Stones, and others, all on a surreal, carnivalesque set.
Finally! You can see it: Dec. 6 on VH1 and, beginning late November, on a 12-city theatrical tour. But if you miss it, don’t fret. It became available on video in October.
Excuse for being late: ”The Stones felt [their performance] by comparison wasn’t as hot as the Who’s,” says director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Despite plans to reshoot Mick and the boys in Rome later that year, the project languished in the rough-cut stage, forgotten until 1994, when Jagger and Co. were persuaded to have a second look.
Rubberneck appeal: Guitarist Brian Jones’ final performance with the Stones before his July 3, 1969, drug-related death.
Shot in 1993-95
What it is: A muckraking documentary about the corruption of the Seattle rock scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Finally! You can see it: Through December in theatrical release.
Excuse for being late: The independent filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay for rights to songs used in the film (including Pearl Jam’s ”Not for You,” Soundgarden’s ”Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” and the Wipers’ ”Return of the Rat”). But a compensation arrangement has now been made. ”If the film does well financially,” says Hype! director Doug Pray, ”that money will go to charities” of the bands’ choosing.
Rubberneck appeal: Kurt Cobain and the first-ever performance of Nirvana’s breakthrough, ”Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Freebird: The Movie
Shot in 1976-77
What it is: A concert film patched together from low-quality video and home-movie footage of four mid-’70s Lynyrd Skynyrd shows.
Finally! You can see it: On video in February 1997.
Excuse for being late: ”The technology has now come about to allow us to release a great concert film,” says director Jeff Waxman of the tape-restoration process, without which the original footage was not viewable.
Rubberneck appeal: Near-final performance by lead singer Ronnie Van Zant before his death in an Oct. 20, 1977, plane crash.
Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970
Shot in 1970
What it is: A hilariously skeptical peek at the behind-the-scenes high jinks and ego wrestling at the peace-and-love rock-fest, with performances by the Doors, Joni Mitchell, the Who, and others.
Finally! You can see it: In limited theatrical release beginning Dec. 25.
Excuse for being late: ”I wish I knew,” director Murray Lerner jokes of his travails in finding financing to even finish production. ”I was pretty obsessed with it. I went around to a lot of people — a lot of people — and didn’t quite make it. Maybe I didn’t present it properly.” The BBC finally gave him backing in time for the festival’s 25th anniversary. ”I guess 25 is a magic number.”
Rubberneck appeal: Final public performance by Jimi Hendrix before his Sept. 18, 1970, drug-related death.