Suppressed by its subjects and prefaced with half-hearted swatches of legalese, Cocksucker Blues betrays any attempts at authenticity before its opening shot, transforming the backstage shenanigans of The Rolling Stones and their associates into a montage of decadent playacting. Lingering outside of Robert Frank’s camera eye, the Stones play supporting roles as penance for the violence of their Altamont Free Concert, forcing the photographic team to shift focus to the disreputable aspects of the recording industry. Left without a compelling narrative core, Frank can only allude to the band’s tour-borne malaise and repressed guilt, digging for meaning in the monologues and writhing bodies of junkie courtesans and revelrous stagehands.
Emulating the gaunt profiles of the primary cast, the film stock is weather-worn and ragged, stripped of color either by design or through decades of bootlegging and videotape generation loss. Edits are just as frayed, carrying little chronology and interrupting pertinent story threads with incongruous clips of stacked studio equipment and dangling light fixtures. This unseemly clutter even carries over to the natural sound recording, melding cacophonous conversation, background noise and diegetic music into an inaudible sonic puddle.
A staggering compositional indifference smothers the piece entirely, leaving lurid bursts of carnality and drug abuse unrecognizable beneath an amateurish color palette unsuited for observational photography. Nudity functions as the only visual leitmotif and emblem of rebellion for the duo of cinematographers, who leer at the artists in various states of undress, splicing in clips of a roadie coaxing his flaccid member to imply an all-embracing promiscuity. These acts of transgression further develop into a “pornographic party” film, treating oral sex and its biological aftermath as childish provocation and inserting the performers into an airborne orgy that crosses the line between frisky and felonious.
The band’s complicity in these unsimulated sex acts is suspiciously obscured by the camera, lending a dubious nature to each explicit endeavor, directing guilt away from the Stones and towards the prurient glance of the filmmakers. If only this avarice for on-screen orgasms and needle injections carried over to the performance footage, which bears a muddiness and intangibility that distances the viewer from the vigor of each uproarious set and directs their attentions towards Frank’s esteemed objects of revulsion.
By making “band-aids” the primary mouthpiece for Mick Jagger and company, Robert Frank betrayed the band’s trust and implied an immorality and indulgence manifested by disingenuous editing and the veil of journalistic integrity. Left with only fleeting moments of musical majesty and witty repartee, the remaining picture bears the vapidity of a green-room gathering, coasting by on its distant association to cultural prominence.
Cocksucker Blues (Marshall Chess, 1972)
Directed by Robert Frank
Photographed by Robert Frank and Daniel Seymour