Godard is a director I've always been a fan of, with “Bande a Part” and “Le Mempris” amongst my favourites, but I'll admit to being unaware of this English language documentary/rockumentary/political statement or however one wishes to classify “Sympathy for the Devil”.
During the late 1960's the world was in a state of flux - Vietnam, student rebellions, death of JFK (in fact this is what the song Sympathy for the Devil was about), Malcolm X and so on. As a result Godard was asked to do a film about another issue of the time, abortion. He was a controversial French new wave director and they wanted his views on a controversial subject matter. However to ensure his participation they promised him access to the Rolling Stones recording sessions for the album “Beggars Banquet”. However Godard's initial ideas changed and he created something that had a clear divide with the Stones representing creation and the tense political statements in the film highlighting destruction. There are long periods with Godard simply observing the Stones at work and it is truly fascinating. I'm not a major music afficionado but the Rolling Stones are legendary and to get a glimpse into their creative process was both engaging and enlightening. For sure the 60's seemed a good time to be a rock 'n' roll star. These scenes meanwhile are interspersed with various characters delivering tense political statements - Black militants decrying the loss of their culture and identity, images of political graffiti daubed on wall, and a porn shop owner reading from Hitler's “Mein Kampf”
This is a hard film to get through - French New Wave directors in general are an acquired taste, but a group whose work I enjoy very much, with Francois Truffaut's “Tirez sur le Pianiste” and “Jules et Jim” and Jean-Pierre Melville's “Bob le Flambeur” being among my absolute favourites. However Godard has managed to create something that is both terribly interesting but infuriatingly pretentious at the same time and I'm unsure what audience will glean the most enjoyment from “Sympathy for the Devil”.
It has moments of 60's cool juxtaposed with radical political messages, but I'm wondering if you never lived through this period, will it sustain your interest? Compared to the world we live in today it seems very far removed. Rolling Stone fans will undoubtedly love the sections of them recording, but will they be ultimately put off by Godard's obscure political inserts. Conversely Godard fans may have little interest in the Stones but will enjoy him at his most creative and sublime. For the casual viewer, I'm not sure what to say - if you want a little insight into the music and political environment of the 1960's, this is unquestionably a quaint window back in time.
Overall like much of Godard and the other French New Wave directors, whether you get it or you don't, it's always interesting to take a look.
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