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Friday, October 24, 2014


brian jones, keith richards, mick jagger

Today's movie was by Jean-Luc Godard, Sympathy For The Devil, the Rolling Stones in a recording studio like they're working toward recording it. Sort of. But that wasn't what they were doing. They were hanging about with headphones on noodling with parts of the song. Keith Richards sometimes was playing a bass and sometimes rhythm, playing chords and short runs from the song. Brian Jones playing rhythm with headphones on. Charlie Watts played complex rhythms on drums from the song. I watched anticipating Mick Jagger singing the beginning over and over in slightly different ways was working toward a recording session toward the end. It felt like it was creeping toward pulling the different parts together. That would be the American way, but not the Jean-Luc Godard way. In the Godard way, we have a parallel story / non-story going on in a junk yard next to the Thames in London near a bridge, crumpled car bodies stacked all around. Some black men passing assault rifles around, one reading some pages from Eldridge Cleaver's Soul On Ice, posing as black panthers, talking revolution. Somebody goes about the city with a spray can writing things like CINEMARXISM and FREUDEMOCRACY on walls in the city. In the junk yard spraying cars with names, STOKELY, MALCOLM. A black man talking revolution to two young black women reporters pretending to write what he was saying, standing around posing. A jet plane flies over low as on its way to a runway from time to time. Scenes of old men buying books in a small used book store, paying for them with a Nazi salute. And more scenes in the recording studio, Keith sitting on the floor, picking some simple riff on his guitar, Bill Wyman shaking a percussion gourd-like thing with pellets against Charlie Watts' drum rhythms. 

keith richards

The recording studio had vertical square panels on wheels to make portable walls. Mick Jagger sang "please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and fame," several times as though looking for just the right way. The band stood around playing small parts of the song. One time the band was sitting around in a sort-of circle getting ready to play, waiting for Keith and Mick, who were talking, though we couldn't hear what they were saying. We just watched them talk with the band waiting. In the studio the band never completed a playing of the song and never performed the anticipated recording of it. It amounted to watching the band hanging in the studio during what appears to be a recording session. Outside at the junkyard, talk of revolution, reading revolutionary writings by black panthers, passing assault rifles from black man to black man. There is purportedly some revolution action, perceived danger, going on off stage. The junkyard scene is like a stage setup. The studio scene with the band is also like a stage setup. The small bookstore, too, was like a stage setup. Old white men and Nazi salutes. The film was made in 1970. It was a time of black panthers carrying guns in Los Angeles, black panthers writing from prison, Pop culture had revolution in the air. All the bands recorded their mandatory revolution song. The Stones never pretended revolution, though gave it the nod. Revolution was in the air, but really no more than a pop culture trend for a year. Paris had its 1968 revolt the same year Godard made this film. 

the revolution outside

Antonioni's film, Zabriski Point, was another European film interpreting American and English pop music revolution. It seemed to me at the time the European directors were looking to see if the American pop revolution might succeed like in France. They didn't know FBI was in charge. As with the Occupy movement now, protests and demonstrations made headlines then, and that was as far as it went. Once it was on tv, it's purpose was fulfilled. It was comic today, 45 years later, to see the black actors strut like black panthers on stage, talking revolution without conviction, posing. This is the great Godard quality, the people posing. They gave the film a John Waters quality, whose Pink Flamingos was new a couple years later, using people who are not actors to play the roles, read a paragraph from Soul On Ice. In the bookstore a guy dressed in purple walks back and forth reading from a book about revolution. The one with the spray can writing words on walls, cars and sidewalks, MAO, STALIN. That part was European. I especially was struck that a film made in London, in English, by a French director, had that French je ne sais quoi. Night before last I saw a French film made by a Polish director that did not have je ne sais quoi. Like the French film made by English director Joseph Losey did not have it either. And tonight an English film by a French director with je ne sais quoi. I felt like Godard was juxtaposing inside, recording studio playing Sympathy For The Devil over and over, and outside, black men in revolt. 

the graffiti artist

I felt about Godard's interest in the Stones that he was making a film that showed the Rolling Stones in a recording studio situation, having short jams, little more than sitting and standing around with nothing to do, passing the time while the film crew ran the cameras, aware the young of the world wanted to see the Rolling Stones. He recorded them just to see them, the Rolling Stones in person, casual, not in concert, not recording, just interacting with each other somewhat, keeping a rhythm going throughout. They never broke out into making music; they just kept a rhythm generating throughout the filming sessions. In hindsight, I'm suspecting they had a contractual agreement such that if they played a full song, it would have cost the film studio more than their budget would allow. They were often picking guitars with simple runs, no Rolling Stones licks. It was low key, little more than hanging in the studio while the film crew took footage of the guys in the band sitting around, standing around, smoking cigarettes, Brian Jones was living in the time of the filming. The netflix sleeve dated the film 1968. A copyright notice at the end of the film said 1970. Jones died in 1969, so I have to go with 1968 the year of the filming, or maybe release. That makes it the year of the French 1968 revolt that actually changed something. The Stones were the band of the moment that year. It was the year lsd swept across the nation. Godard's film is little more than just video footage of the Rolling Stones with nothing to do, posing. Racial tension and Sympathy For The Devil. Rich white guys in the studio singing about wealth and fame, black guys in the junkyard talking revolution. 

the movie poster


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