Easily the greatest lost rock film of the 60s, Rock & Roll Circus is a freewheeling, psychedelic carnival of acrobats, clowns, fire-breathers, dwarves and pure rock & roll, featuring The Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull and Jethro Tull.
Filmed on 11 December 1968, Rock & Roll Circus was originally intended for British television, and filming took place in a mock-up of a big-top circus tent at Wembley Studios.
The original plan was for Brigitte Bardot to act as the ringmaster, but, in the end, it was Mick Jagger, in top hat and tails, who cracked the whip.
Jethro Tull opened proceedings with Ian Anderson performing Song for Jeffrey in part as a one-legged jig. Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath filled in for the recently-departed Mick Abrahams, although the band were miming for the film.
Next up were The Who. Honed by three US tours in six months, they were pure, mad thrashing energy. With water flying off Moon’s toms, they performed their mini-opera A Quick One While He’s Away, flawlessly.
The Rolling Stones were due to headline, but as filming dragged on, they didn’t make their entrance until after 2 am when the long day had taken its toll. The band (with Brian Jones in his last on-camera appearance) ripped through Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sympathy For The Devil, You Can’t Always Get What You Want and others.
It wasn’t their most impressive performance, and when the footage was viewed back, the decision was taken not to release the film – perhaps because The Who, match-fit from their recent US tour, far outplayed the Stones.
The film remained unseen for 28 years until it premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1996. It was then broadcast for the first time on BBC2 on New Year’s Eve that year.
The Rolling Stones