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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rockumentary > Sympathy For The Devil (feature film)

Sympathy For The Devil (feature film)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: B



Before going into his “Dziga-Vertov” mode of alternate Maoist filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard shot a film in 1968 entitled One Plus One, but conflict with the producers resulted in it being issued two years later as Sympathy for the Devil.  It is that latter version that has finally arrived on DVD, but is it really still Godard’s film?


Not as much as his cut, but the majority of the work form the original film has been maintained, except for the more brutal ending, which was dropped here.  With the United StatesVietnam conflict going on, the more robust Marxist movement of the time saw an opportunity to go at it with the U.S. and what they wanted to portray as their power gone mad.  It was never that simple, which is why this film has its problems in either version.


The other side of the film revisits the behind-the-scenes filmmaking in Contempt with a new tract of “Black radicals” wanting to destroy American society and step over black women to get to white women.  This does not make the white women lucky, because they have anger to take out on them too.  The misogyny is extreme, obvious, and seems desperate.  If Godard was endorsing revolution, this could not even then be seen as a plus.  The director has been endlessly criticized for his treatment of women, especially the way he liked to always show them nude.


He tries to subvert that in a scene in a book store that is filled with fictional novels, various kinds of picture books (including nudes and semi-nudes of men and women), and comic books.  They eventually blur as the walls are filled with them, shot in ways to suggest they are the capitalist equivalent of Soviet Agit-Prop, a device he uses in between these sequences and those of The Stones.  The point is taken, except he seems to have missed the point of such Pop culture.  Since then, this has all evolved into something more, much like music of The Rolling Stones.  To give an idea of how narrow Godard sees this culture, which he tries to intellectualize away in one of the character diatribes, there is the issue of the comics.  Why are the only comics the Fascist American bookstore carry published by DC Comics?


It is puzzling items and ideas like that that do not gel as they tend to in other Godard films, but maybe he took on more than he realized here.  Godard may have expected the Vietnam factor to be projected into this film, but it is not explicit enough for any points beyond the obvious to be made.  Even the failures are interesting, though.  This is a film that deals in vivid images, so if they do not always add up, they are fascinating to watch, especially when the DVD is this good.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is a fine Digital High Definition-derived transfer that may not be as totally defined as I wish it was, but the original Eastmancolor from the time is exceptionally consistent and authentic.  Though the camera moves, especially of The Rolling Stones in the studio, looks like his work with Raoul Coutard on collaborations like Contempt (1963), this is the first time Godard worked with cinematographer Anthony Richard.  This is some of the best footage of the band that ever has been shot or ever will be.  This alone is more than reason enough to see this film, which is why this variation of the film survives as strongly as it does.  As they have with Circus and the Criterion DVD restoration of Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones have been adamant about preserving and reissuing films from their archive with exceptional fidelity and quality.  I can’t wait to see more.


The PCM CD Mono is not bad and a better choice than Dolby Digital 1.0 or 2.0 for the DVD.  The only time the sound fails is at the end when we hear the completed version of the title song in mono, which sounds a bit slower and touch more distorted than it should.  After all the remixes, and the Super Audio CD DSD versions, maybe this should have been redubbed in simple stereo.  It’s not like it would have violated Godard’s vision of the film, since he never intended for the final song to be heard at the end to begin with.  The few extras include the original theatrical trailer for this cut and a new music video for The Neptunes’ remix version of the song.


Though that is not much in the way of extras, this DVD is an exceptional performer, and even if Godard’s Maoist/Marxist stuff is a joke to see, The Stones work is undeniably great.  The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band in the studio at their absolute peak of power and infamy.  Godard later thought he made a mistake trying to synthesize the potential revolution in Rock Music with the actual revolution of the politically radical African Americans against Capitalism and the United States, but in the way he captures the band, there is no mistake.  Seeing them work is classic enough.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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