24 August 2006 | Bunuel1976
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (Jean-Luc Godard, 1968) **
This "meeting" of two of the finest artists of the 20th Century - Jean-Luc Godard and The Rolling Stones - is truly a missed opportunity. The footage of the band recording their landmark song (probably my favorite Stones track) is certainly fascinating, as we watch the initially slow musical accompaniment for the song taking shape and metamorphose into the energetic, percussion-heavy final version we're familiar with. Sadly, it's also quite apparent here that Brian Jones (who sits in his booth playing his acoustic guitar, rarely communicating with his bandmates except to ask for a cigarette and eventually disappearing altogether in the second half of the film) was slipping away fast.
Unfortunately for us viewers, Godard (in full-blown "political activist" mode) unwisely intersperses the recording sessions with lots of boring stuff featuring militant black people spouting "Black Power" philosophy in a junkyard, white political activists reading their "sacred" texts in a book shop while members of the general public are made to slap two of their comrades and give the Nazi salute and, most embarrassingly of all perhaps, Godard's current wife, Anne Wiazemsky (playing Eve Democracy!) is seen being followed by a camera crew in a field and asked the most obtuse "topical" questions imaginable to which she merely answers in the affirmative or the negative!
As if this wasn't enough, the film has undoubtedly the murkiest soundtrack I've ever had the misfortune to hear (so that I often had to rely on the forced Italian subtitles present on the VHS copy I was watching) and I'd bet that even Robert Altman would have objected to Godard's occasional overlapping on the soundtrack of the Stones recording, the Black Power spoutings, an anonymous narrator reading a (mercifully) hilarious pulp novel, etc. For some inexplicable reason then, the film ends on a beach where an unidentified film crew is filming a battle sequence!!
Godard's original intention was to not include the song "Sympathy For The Devil" in its entirety and when producer Iain Quarrier overruled him, he jumped up on London's National Film Theater stage following a screening of the film and knocked him out! Godard's version, entitled ONE PLUS ONE, is also available on a double-feature R2 DVD including both cuts of the film but it's highly unlikely that I'll be bothering with it any time soon...