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Subversive Cinema: Godard’s Rolling Stones Film by

February 19th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Sympathy For The Devil a.k.a. One Plus One (England/France, 1968)

On the eve of the May 1968 student revolts in Paris, Jean-Luc Godard would leave for London to make his first English film. Godard, who was increasingly becoming politically radical, claimed the film was his last “bourgeois film”.

Godard had originally agreed to make a fully-financed film about abortion in England; the plan fell through when abortion laws changed. Demandingly, Godard told the producers he would still make an English film if they could get either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones to participate. Eventually the producers provided Godard with 180,000 pounds and a Rolling Stones commitment.

The filming was plagued with problems: the Student revolts were going on in Paris, the Rolling Stones’ studio caught fire, and Brian Jones (who would die a year later) was arrested.

The film was originally supposed to tell a parallel story about creation and destruction. While the Rolling Stones were creating “Sympathy for the Devil” (from the 1968 LP, Beggars Banquet) in the studio, a love-triangle between a girl named Democracy, a Nazi Texan, and a militant black man would develop. Democracy’s eventual suicide would provide the destruction angle.

Not surprisingly, Godard threw the narrative out the window. The final product is an abstract mixture of the Rolling Stones recording sessions, Black Power, graffiti, and Marxist ideology.

To make the film more marketable, the producers added a completed version of “Sympathy for the Devil” to the soundtrack at the end of the film. Godard strongly disapproved. As Gary Elshaw explains, “throughout the film, the spectator is shown the process of the Rolling Stones recording the song, but part of Godard’s scenario for the film is a lack of any kind of closure for the issues represented in One Plus One. Therefore, to include the full version of the song is in contradiction with the meaning of the film.

This new version was titled Sympathy for the Devil, while Godard’s was titled One Plus One. To much confusion, both were released simultaneously. Personally, I can’t help but compare this film to the Beatles 1969 recording studio film, Let It Be.

My favorite part of the story:
“When the film premiered at the London Film Festival on November 30 1968, Godard asked the audience in attendance to ask for its money back…Godard also asked the audience to contribute their refunded money to the international committee for the defense of Eldridge Cleaver, who had gone underground two days previously. After many in the audience rejected Godard’s proposal he stormed from the cinema calling the audience “Fascists,””

Sympathy for the Devil is available on DVD from Abcko films.

Most of this blog entry was ripped off of Gary Elshaw’s M.A. thesis “The Depiction of late 1960’s Counter-Culture in the 1968 Films of Jean-Luc Godard”. The full text is available here.


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