|Sympathy for the Devil||Vanishing Point||Rolling Stones Gallery||Cupid Aerial||Contact|
Telephone: 01730 812423 / Fax: 01730 815608
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL / ONE PLUS ONE Andrew Hussey for the Guardian
This is one of those rare and unsettling examples of a rock film which has the all the immediacy of reportage from a distant war-zone. The terrain is Olympic Studios in London in June 1968, where the Rolling Stones, recovering from the critical mauling of At Their Satanic Majesty's Request, are at work on the tracks that would become Beggars' Banquet. The film-maker was Jean-Luc Godard, at the height of his reputation as Europe's most daring director. Godard had briefly left Paris for London in the wake of the Paris riots of May '68 with the aim of making a film about art, power and revolution. The Stones, at their most dazzling and Luciferian, were, as Godard saw it, perfect for the role of agents of anarchy in a movie whose stated aim was to 'subvert, ruin and destroy all civilised values'.
The making of Sympathy for the Devil was fraught. The Stones were at war with themselves and the world (Mick, Keith and Brian were all being constantly hounded for drugs). Amid the constant bickering and stoned conspiracy theories, nobody was surprised when the studio caught fire. Godard was also caught in a series of private battles (with critics, financiers and producers: the producer of this film was punched in the mouth by Godard for changing its title). The film was critically panned on its release. Most damagingly for Godard, it was mocked in France where rock music had yet to be taken seriously. 'This is the work of cretins, and Godard is the most cretinous of them all,' said the Situationist philosopher Guy Debord. The film has been derided ever since as a classic example of mid-Sixties radical chic - meaning that it was pretentious, incomprehensible and, worst of all, boring. For all this, it turns out to be a cracking movie, now available on DVD for the first time.
Godard captured the Stones as they were working on 'Sympathy for the Devil', slowly transforming it from a slow bluesy grind into the familiar apocalyptic samba still has the power to chill the air. As the track is worked and reworked, we glimpse the inner dynamics of the Stones. Bill Wyman and Brian Jones are on the margins (Jones spends most of the film shuttered away, ostracised, playing an inaudible and irrelevant acoustic guitar). Charlie Watts is every inch the dapper jazz mod, as spare with his incisive drumming as he is meticulous with his clothes. Jagger is languid, bored and then sexually ambiguous and cruel, coming only properly to life when he sings the lyrics. Most compelling of all is Keith, changing rhythms and cues at will, eyes gleaming, restless and fiercely intelligent, a million miles from the stoned zombie of legend. When he choreographs and leads the band and acolytes (including the witchy Anita Pallenberg) into the 'whoo, whoos' that make the track so malicious, it is sinister and stunning.
The studio scenes are punctuated by a series of set pieces - an incoherent stew of Situationism and other Sixties stuff. It's all bollocks but it looks superb. 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. It's all great stuff: a snapshot of a far-off, lost world where rock music is still a redemptive and revolutionary force. · 'Sympathy For the Devil' Produced by Cupid Productions is released by Fabulous Films/ Fremantle