Sympathy for the Devil

Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman
Fabulous Films
RRP: 14.99
Certificate: 15
Available 05 June 2006

Sympathy for The Devil was made at a time when the Rolling Stones were at the peak of their creative powers and Jean-Luc Godard, who after making some of the great French New Wave films, had taken a revolutionary political direction with his filmmaking. Rock and roll superstars The Rolling Stones rehearse their latest song Sympathy for The Devil in a London studio as they compose material for the forthcoming Beggar's Banquet album. This is followed by a series of abstract fictional vignettes, Godard probes topics as diverse as race, pornography and the irony of interviewing celebrities, which feature a unique demonstration by Black Power revolutionaries and a TV interview with one Eve Democracy about the relationship between culture and revolution...

This 1968 film by controversial French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard is often described as 'two movies in one' - the first being footage of The Rolling Stones in studio, and the second being a series of 'abstract fictional vignettes' documenting 1960's western counterculture, and examining the relationship between culture and revolution.

That would be a polite way of describing it, though. A more accurate summing-up would be 'a turgid, pretentious mess of a non-film' which will ultimately be of only very minor interest to the most blindly devoted of Rolling Stones fans.

The obvious main attraction of the film is the footage of the Stones themselves, going through the process of creating an all-time classic track, from Mick Jagger's initial demonstration of the song on acoustic guitar to the rest of the band, through to the fully-fleshed performance of the finished masterpiece. These scenes are beautifully filmed by Godard, but in truth offer very little insight into one of the greatest bands in the world, who at this point were at their very peak of their creative powers. Whilst there may be some initial interest in watching and hearing the song slowly but surely evolve, even the most hardened Stones fan will eventually begin to find this material at best repetitive, at worst simply annoying - mainly because for some reason, Godard chose in his infinite wisdom to have a narrator regularly recite explicit erotic text over much of the footage. Nice.

Meanwhile, the 'abstract fictional vignettes', interspersed with the Stones footage, consist largely of meandering and often indecipherable political ramblings. We are 'treated' to lengthy sequences of black militants in a junkyard reading the text of political activist Eldridge Cleaver. The owner of an adult store reads aloud from Nazi texts whilst his customers wander in and out giving him the Nazi salute as they buy their pornography. A character named 'Eve Democracy' is interviewed and answers each long-winded cultural question with the words 'yes' or 'no'. These mind-numbingly tedious sequences drag on for what seems like several millennia, and appear to be the half-finished work of an art student with far, far too much time on his hands rather than an acclaimed director who was supposed to be making a film with The Rolling Stones but forgot.

In fairness, Fabulous Films have done their utmost to present the definitive Sympathy For The Devil package. As well as the original theatrical release, the disc also features a very rare chance to view One Plus One, Godard's original Director's Cut of the film. This is spirit-crushingly similar to the theatrical version but manages to raise the bizarre stakes even higher by cutting out the final finished performance of The Rolling Stones track (you know, that thing the film was supposed to be all about) and replacing it with extra footage of the black militants dragging women in bloodied white gowns to their execution. Nice.

Also featured in the package is Voices, an award-winning 1968 documentary on Godard - it's not tremendously interesting but is by far the most watchable thing on the whole disc.

Danny Salter

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