Between 1969 and 1972 the Rolling Stones were the subject of four films, each of which explored a different facet of the band and the public's perception of them.
Jean-Luc Godard's One Plus One (aka Sympathy For The Devil) from 1969 was a wearying polemic that made you wish the director would put aside his agenda and let the band play some rock 'n' roll. The Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter was a grimly fascinating account of the band's Altamont gig, where their flirtation with the dark side was made manifest in the murder of a fan by one of the Hell's Angels hired for security.
That was followed by photographer Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues in 1972, a perilously candid account of the boredom, drug-abuse and cheerless excess that accompanied the Stones' 1972 tour. So unflattering was the film's portrayal of the band that it's been suppressed ever since, though anyone who knows where to look can dredge up a copy and watch Keith hurling a TV out of his hotel room and nodding out backstage.
By comparison The Stones In The Park is a rather pale concert film, but it's significant nonetheless. Filmed by a Granada crew on 5 July 1969 in front of an estimated audience of 50,000, it catches the band just two days after the death of founder Brian Jones. The gig marked the hurried debut of new guitarist Mick Taylor, and the first performance of a shuffling new number called 'Honky Tonk Women'. But it's for the band's eulogy to Jones that the film has passed into rock history, a white-frocked Jagger reciting Shelley's poem 'Adonais' and then releasing 3,500 white butterflies into the audience.
The live action is intercut with an interview conducted that same afternoon with Jagger, and some fascinating footage of London's basking hairies. What's striking about the concert - in 1969 one of the largest events of its kind ever staged in the UK - is how accessible the band were to the audience, and the cheerful chaos that accompanies an under-rehearsed and distinctly underwhelming performance.
'I'm Free' is the Stones at their sloppiest. 'Sympathy For The Devil' is accompanied by a dozen African drummers, but it's not until Charlie steers the song out of a percussive cul-de-sac that it begins to achieve any sort of groove. 'Jumping Jack Flash' is the one moment of genuine, unfettered energy, but even the band acknowledged the concert wasn't great. "Hyde Park was one of the most abysmal shows we've ever done," was Keith's assessment years later. "But it was also one of the most important."
It's a film that captures the moment rather than the music, and its mix of Englishness and intimacy (pay close attention and you can see Paul McCartney mooching happily about in the crowd) have a quaint appeal not normally associated with the band. While Gimme Shelter had the Hell's Angels knocking about members of The Jefferson Airplane on stage, The Stones In The Park features bowling on the green, boating on the lake and some bemused-looking bobbies standing well back. This being their satanic majesties however, the band's celebration/wake for the founder they ditched wouldn't be complete without its own dark rumour: by the time the butterflies were shaken out of their boxes it's said, most of them were dead.