Sympathy for the Devil (originally titled One Plus One, but changed by the producer without Godard’s consent) was lambasted, derided and summarily shot down by the conservative critics and viewers upon its release. That’s all good, of course (and I’m sure Godard wouldn’t have wanted it any other way), considering what a gleefully and gloriously provocative, subversive, mordantly funny, madcap and riotously impolitic film this was. Most pertinently, this was also such a fabulous time-capsule, encapsulating the period’s radicalism, rebelliousness and roguish audacity. And well, that the producer (who, ironically, played a neo-Nazi and snuff bookseller in it) was gifted with a well-deserved punch on his face by the French iconoclast for the title change and inclusion of the full titular song at the end despite Godard’s conscious avoidance of that, further underlined everything that the film and its maker so distinctively embodied. This one-of-a-kind movie was an exhilarating mashup of a behind-the-scenes music video – one worth its weight in gold for rock music aficionados – and bewitching political agitprop, polemics and formal experimentation in a continuation of his three remarkable previous films. Thus, in its key thread – shot at London’s Olympic Recording Studio, often using deceptively long single-takes – we see Rolling Stones’ iconic rock anthem evolving from a bluesy, acoustics-heavy song into its euphoric final version, and in the process also observe Mick, Keith, Watts and co. jamming up-close. And, this was constantly punctuated with zany vignettes – Black Panthers members reading revolutionary Marxist texts at a junkyard; a hilariously rambling and polemical interview with “Eve Democracy” (Anne Wiazemsky) answering questions with only “Yes” and “No”; and Wiazemsky spray-painting droll political portmanteau griffiti like “Cinemarx”, “Sovietnam” and “Feudemocracy” across London.
p.s. This is my 1500th review at Cinemascope, and glad to have reached this milestone with a Godard gem.
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Music Video/Avant-Garde/Experimental/Political Satire