Sympathy For the Devil (USA, 1969)

sympathy_for_the_devil_rolling_stones_Jean_Luc_Godard_1968_psychedelic_rocknrollDirected by: Jean-Luc Godard. Oh, Godard. What are we going to do with you? I don’t know why I was expecting a regular, fly-on-the-wall, making-of documentary when clearly, this is going to be a Godard film. And really, every Godard film is a “Godard film”: confrontational, full of side-glances, interruptions, long streams of dialogue delivered in a presentational way by non-actors and actors acting like non-actors in a metaphorical space, overtly Marxist political diatribes against whatever aspect of the status quo is being targeted in each film. In this case, the uneventful, mundane, (even flat-out boring) studio footage of the Rolling Stones working out “Sympathy For the Devil” from a mid-tempo conventional guitar jam to the amped-up, piano-driven percussive hit it turned out to be is intercut with Godardian scenes riffing on the exploitation of black culture and the exploitation of women—two streams which seem to converge squarely in the Rolling Stones’ music. And that’s why I actually really enjoyed watching this movie. Even though I know what I’m getting into with Godard, he can be a bit hard to watch sometimes, if I’m not in the right headspace. Given most standard definitions that regular people have of “movies”, his movies aren’t movies. But I found it really fascinating to think that the Stones must have been at least partially aware of Godard and the French New Wave, and that they must have signed off on this movie in some capacity before it was released. Basically, they must have been hip enough to get behind the idea that they are, in fact, benefiting from and even thriving on the exploitation and gentrification of black culture through their music, and the fact that their whole rock band image and a lot of their lyrical imagery is rooted in a pretty callous, disposable view of women. In pointing that out as blatantly as it does, this movie is arguably an anti-Rolling Stones movie starring the Rolling Stones. As much as the Stones are an “establishment” band, it’s pretty cool for them to stand there and proudly own up to the fact that their band and their image have a lot of problems. I guess I won’t go too far down that road of back-patting and so forth, but regardless, they gained some major cool points for teaming with Godard of all people, and this film is definitely an interesting look at the band and, unlike very many other music docs, their cultural context as well.

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One response to “Sympathy For the Devil (USA, 1969)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

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