by Josh Jones, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2013/11/godard-films-rolling-stones-writing-sympathy-for-the-devil.html
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Naissance de "Sympathy for the devil " (one+one... by cinocheproduction
After the Rolling Stones’ partly misguided, partly inspired attempt at psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request, the band found its footing again in the familiar territory of the Delta Blues.
But with the 1968 recording of Beggar’s Banquet,
they also retained some of the previous album’s experimentation, taken
in a more sinister direction on the infamous “Sympathy for the Devil.”
In the studio, with the band during those recording sessions, was none
other than radical French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who brought his own experimental sensibilities to a project he would call One Plus One,
a document of the Stones’ late sixties incarnation - including an
increasingly reclusive Brian Jones.
Godard punctuates the fascinating
studio scenes of the Stones with what Andrew Hussey of The Guardian calls “a series of set pieces - an incoherent stew of Situationism and other Sixties stuff”:
Black Panthers in a disused car park
execute white virgins; a bookseller reads aloud from Mein Kampf to
Maoist hippies; in the final scene the bloodied corpse of a female urban
guerrilla is raised to the Stones’ soundtrack as Godard himself darts
about like a demented Jacques Tati waving Red and Black flags. You just
don’t find this sort of thing at the local multiplex anymore.
For all of its heavy use of leftist Sixties iconography, its anarchic
attempt to fuse “art, power and revolution,” and its fascinating
portraiture of rock and roll genius at work, the film crash landed in
France, earning the contempt of arch Situationist theorist Guy Debord, who called it “the work of cretins.”
Critics and audiences apparently expected more from Godard in the wake of the abortive May ‘68 student uprising in Paris,
and the general neglect of the film meant that Godard missed his chance
to, as he put it, “subvert, ruin and destroy all civilised values.”
The film’s producer, Iain Quarrier, also found it disappointing. Without the director’s permission, Quarrier decided to retitle One Plus One with the more commercially-minded Sympathy for the Devil
and tack a completed version of that song to the last reel, a move that
provoked Godard to punch Quarrier in the face.
But not everyone found
Godard’s effort off-putting. In a 1970 review, the New York Times’ Roger Greenspun
called it “heavily didactic, even instructional ... the prospective
text of some ultimate, infinitely complex collectivism.” Greenspun also
decried Quarrier’s unauthorized interventions.
In his retrospective take, Andrew Hussey admits that Godard’s political posturing is “bollocks,” but then concludes that One Plus One
is “great stuff: a snapshot of a far-off, lost world where rock music
is still a redemptive and revolutionary force.”
And it’s both - ridiculous
and sublime, a powerful crystallization of a moment in time when all
the Western world seemed poised to crack open and release something
strange and new.
Watch Godard’s original film, One Plus One here (with Spanish subtitles); the
trailer for the recast Quarrier version directly above; and the scenes
where Godard captured the Stones’ giving birth to “Sympathy for the
Devil” at the top.
It may be perfect viewing on “Black Friday,” that
most absurd celebration of mindless consumerism.