Monday, August 16, 2010

Sympathy for The Devil Review

Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil (1968) was made in the midst of the directors political period that had begun in 1967 with La Chinoise. Besides featuring long takes of the Rolling Stones recording their signature classic “Sympathy for The Devil”, the film is interspersed with scenes of The Black Panthers and other radical political moments that attempt to capture the turmoil and upheaval that was going on around the world in the mid to late 1960's.

The film begins with the title card “The Stones Rolling”. The viewer is given a glimpse of the Rolling Stones loosely jamming through “Sympathy for The Devil”. These scenes are mixed with shots of a girl spray painting slogans on windows and the sides of buildings. The shots of the Stones at work and the Graffiti Girl are tied together by the voice of Sean Lynch reading from various texts that are both erotic and political, much in the same sense that the Rolling Stones recording “Sympathy for The Devil” is; with Mick Jagger being the perfect poster boy for this exploration.

“Outside Black Novel” is the title of the second part. The scene opens with a member of the Black Panther party sitting in a wheelbarrow reading out loud from a book. The wheelbarrow is sitting in a junkyard littered with beat up, rusting cars, that is in an industrial area near a river. As the camera moves from him to other men, we see that all of them are reading from various revolutionary texts, including those of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), while gearing up for an impending confrontation. Machines guns begin to be distributed as a car pulls up. Inside are three white women who have been taken prisoner. While these women are paraded through the junkyard one of the Black Panthers reads a piece in praise of white women.

“Sights and Sounds”. The return of Sean Lynch and the Rolling Stones.

“All About Eve”. A scene that involves a camera crew following a woman named Eve Democracy (Anne Wiazemsky), in a forest. She's dressed in a simple white peasant's dress. As she strolls around the woods she is being followed by a camera crew and an interviewer. Eve Democracy always answers "yes" or "no" to the questions being asked of her.

“Hi Fiction Science”. The Stones. Graffiti on parked cars. Charlie Watts is a bad ass.

“The Heart of Occident”. This scene takes up one quarter of the film and is shot inside a small bookstore that sells diverse items such as American comic books, Marxist pamphlets, and various men's magazines. Shots of the store are soundtrack by voice-over reading political text, Sean Lynch's continued narration, and The Stones playing Sympathy for The Devil. Alternating shots of the store and consumers casually enter the bookstore, approach a bookshelf, pick up books or magazines, exchange them for a sheet of paper, and then slap the faces of two Maoist hostages. Toward the end of the scene, a small child is admitted for the purpose of buying a pamphlet and slapping the faces of the hostages. This scene is the moment when Godard brings together all his ideas on the political and the erotic.

Mimicking the earlier scene of the camera crew following Eve Democracy is the last scene to the movie, where the camera crew mills about on the beach, and from afar, one man asks another, "what are they doing over there?" To which the other man answers, "I think they are shooting a movie." A large winch or crane is positioned on the beach, and a woman in white is laid down upon the end of the crane, and elevated on the platform until she is well above the beach. She doesn't rise up, she just remains motionless, half-hanging off the crane, one leg dangling.

The end of the film's soundtrack was altered to include a full take of the song in its final form. This angered Godard and caused a dust-up between him and the producer responsible.

During filming of The Rolling Stones' recording, a fire broke out in the sound studio. While footage of the studio on fire was not included on the film, it does exist and has been used in other films.

“Sympathy for The Devil” or “One Plus One” as it is also known, is an example of Godard breaking away from the conventional narrative in his films. He attempts in this film, as well as in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and The Weekend, to give scripted scenarios a documentary feel. He also uses these films to make bold philosophical, political, and social statements without coating them in contrived plots and characters. What is also interesting about this film and the others of this era, is that if one watches all of Godard's films prior to this time period, his direction and evolution as a film maker seems to make more sense. Much in the same way that Godard's contemporary, Bob Dylan's evolution as a song writer doesn't seem as jolting or unusual if you study patterns of influence and fascinations beginning with his “Freewheelin'” album.


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