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United Kingdom 1968/2006
Directed by
Jean-Luc Godard
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Sympathy For The Devil

Synopsis: Jean-Luc Godard's account of Revolution, May '68 style.

Originally entitled One Plus One, Godard's film has understandably been re-released with its more accessible and commercially viable title, Sympathy For The Devil. The 1960 counter-culture has long since gone and with it the justification for the avant-garde, anti-establishmentarian polemics which constitutes 50 percent of the film. These involve gun-toting Black Power dudes in an auto-wrecking yard on the banks of the Thames declaiming quasi-Marxist rhetoric whilst their colleagues execute svelte nightgown-clad white girls and an intermittent voice-over reading extracts from a pornographic novel, amongst other characteristically Godardian devices. This perhaps made sense in its day when the Zeitgeist celebrated all forms of unconventionality. Today such things constitute, at best, an historical oddity.

The legend of The Rolling Stones continues on however (along with the all-too mortal Stones themselves), and the opportunity to see them at height of their creative powers laying down one of their best songs will be, for hardcore Stones fans at least, worth the forbearance required to get through the political postueing. Well pretty, much so. You'll see the band when Brian Jones was still alive and apparently compus mentis, when Charlie had a full head of hair and when Keef was actually able to complete a sentence. The lad's Carnaby Road fashion is great and as an insight into the band's dynamics and working practices at the time, amply demonstrating Jones's marginalisation, the film is valuable.

Unfortunately hardly anyone other than Mick or Keith speaks, and even when they do, they say little. Much time is spent in gormless sitting-around and, frustratingly, we do not see the actual evolution of the song. For quite a while the band bangs around with it in a conventional rock format, including some overbearing organ from the completely wordless Nicky Hopkins. Then the film cuts and the song is pretty much in the form that we now know it with its distinctive percussion, riffs and Nicky Hopkins piano. It would have been nice to know how this radical and inspired change came about. Producer Iain Quarrier tacked the completed recording of the song onto the end of the film, a move which infuriated Godard, but in hindsight, hearing the song and seeing the band, minus Jones, sitting around in the penultimate scene it is the emotional highpoint of the film.




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