Formed in London in 1963, The Rolling Stones would by the end of that decade be among the world's most celebrated rock bands, but unlike their friendly rivals The Beatles, The Rolling Stones were never able to translate their charisma and musical smarts into a successful career in the movies. The Rolling Stones grew out of the fertile British blues scene that began to take root during the skiffle craze of the mid '50's, and when the meteoric rise of the Beatles expanded the boundaries of what was possible for a British rock group, The Rolling Stones were shrewd enough to capitalize on the dichotomy between the two bands -- while The Beatles were likable mop-tops who played upbeat pop music nearly anyone could enjoy, The Stones played much grittier blues-based music and assumed a tough, rebellious image that made them scary to grown-ups but appealing to teens. This also limited their film careers, however; while the Fab Four displayed a natural wit and easy onscreen charm, the most charismatic Stone, Mick Jagger, hardly looked or acted like a matinee idol, and while Brian Jones may have had a movie star's appearance, he was far more interested in playing guitar than facing the camera. One also wonders what a director would have made of Keith Richards' stoic surliness or the "stand in the back and chew gum" facelessness of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman.
While the Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, periodically announced feature film projects for his boys, none ever appeared (they at one time were attached to the Dirk Bogarde vehicle The Singer Not the Song, though their participation was eventually limited to writing the title song). But the continuing popularity of The Rolling Stones and their dynamic live show ensured that they popped up in a significant number of concert documentaries over the years. 1964's The T.A.M.I. Show found them headlining a stellar bill of rock and R&B hitmakers (including James Brown, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes), with the band looking a bit green but plenty enthusiastic. The band's 1966 tour of Ireland was the focus of Charlie Is My Darling, while two years later director Jean-Luc Godard used footage of the Stones recording "Sympathy For The Devil" as a framing device for his look at youth politics and global revolution in Sympathy For the Devil (aka One Plus One). In 1969, the Rolling Stones decided to wind up their riotous U.S. tour (their first American dates with new guitarist Mick Taylor, who replaced the late Brian Jones) with a free concert in San Francisco. The result was the band's single most infamous show, the Altamont Speedway concert, caught on film by David Maysles and Albert Maysles in the disquieting documentary Gimme Shelter. While Gimme Shelter captured the Rolling Stones in superb form, the film didn't make them look like terribly nice people, and periodically the band attempted to create another film that would document their potent stage show in a better light. For the group's 1972 American tour, photographer and experimental filmmaker Robert Frank was brought along to make a movie about the Stones; Frank was given total access to the band's activities both on- and off-stage, and he put every scandalous moment of The Stones' debauched lifestyle into CS Blues -- so much so that the band successfully pursued legal action to prevent the film from being released, though Frank was given permission to screen the film once a year, with the director in attendance. (In its place, the band released the competent but unexciting Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones). In 1981, the band teamed up with veteran director and editor Hal Ashby for Let's Spend the Night Together, a feature assembled from the group's stadium tour of that year; the shows found The Stones in less than exciting form, and Ashby's fondness for cutting from one performance to another in mid-song was more disorienting than exciting. (This was also the first Stones concert feature after Ron Wood replaced Mick Taylor on guitar.) And in 1991, The Rolling Stones gave it yet another try with At the Max; director Julian Temple shot the film in the high-definition IMAX format, which attempted to recreate the excitement of a Stones show with a massive, curved screen that enveloped the audience and a six-track, stereo-sound mix. Since the rise of home video, a steady stream of concert films and retrospective features on the band have appeared, with no end in sight for Stones fans looking for a dose of Mick and Keith's deadly charisma.