Music Film Week – Sympathy for the Devil

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Jean Luc-Godard unlike any director of the ’60s captured the zeitgeist of the times. One of his first forays in what would be known as an essay film was this fascinating film he made with The Rolling Stones. The entire footage of The Stones is them recording and working on their classic song Sympathy for the Devil. The song is one of the very few songs they ever did with political connotations with references to the Kenendy assassinations and other crimes over the centuries through the view-point of Lucifer, they followed it up with their most overtly political song Street Fighting Man.

The footage of the Rolling Stones is contrasted with footage Godard shot of script scenes involving the Black Panthers. The footage shows them as almost an assembly line of revolutionaries and they also read from revolutionary texts and text have always played an important role in Godard’s films from this period to the present day. They eventually kill some white woman off-screen.

The highlight of the film that isn’t Stones footage is this brilliant segment set in a book store. Different customers come in and buy comic books, sci-fi books (Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is clearly visible), nazi pamphlets, mens mags etc. Each customers after buying their items give a Nazi salute which is obviously a statement on consumerism, Godard at this period was a hardcore Maoist.

Godard’s muse and wife at Anne Wiazemsky after he divorced the wonderful Anna Karina (he was a very stupid man) stars in one of the segments where a camera crew follows her around. She is seen as the definition of democracy, her name in the film is Eve Democracy. She is followed around by a film crew and is asked questions which she always answers yes or no. Godard would use the notion of films with films for the rest of career when he would become even more experimental and at times completely impenetrable.

Sympathy for the Devil or Godard’s preferred title of One Plus One remains a fascinating document of its time especially if you understand the context it was made in, it was filmed after the famous May ’68 riots in Paris. The Stones at the time were dabbling in the occult, Jagger would later compose a score for the experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Brian Jones’ decline into drug abuse and his soon death is on show throughout the film it’s almost Godard knew his death was near in the way he shoots him. It’s totally pretentious to its core but it’s a surprisingly entertaining film and makes some interesting political points throughout it’s running time and sums up the end of the ’60s almost as well as that other Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter.