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When Mick Met Jean-Luc - The New York Times

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

Among other things, 1970 was the year that brought three Mick Jagger movies to American theaters.

Mr. Jagger starred in the acid thriller “Performance”; the concert film “Gimme Shelter”; and the less-seen Jean-Luc Godard film, “One Plus One,” also known as “Sympathy for the Devil,” which is having a run in a 4K digital restoration at the Museum of Modern Art.

Mr. Godard was at the peak of his counterculture prestige when, having failed to interest John Lennon in playing Leon Trotsky, he made his first English-language film with Mr. Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Soon after the events of May 1968, which included not only a student uprising in Paris but also protests that shut down the Cannes Film Festival, he documented several recording sessions in which the Stones worked out the melody and arrangement of “Sympathy for the Devil,” the first track of their album “Beggars Banquet.”

The evolution of the song from folkie ballad to hypnotic samba, preserved in a series of long, choreographed takes, would be illuminating in itself, but Mr. Godard had much more in mind. The rehearsals are interspersed with scenes in which Anne Wiazemsky, then his wife, spray-paints slogans on surfaces ranging from pub facades to parked cars, and, identified as “Eve Democracy,” gives monosyllabic answers to a television crew whose questions were largely drawn from a Playboy interview with Norman Mailer.

There is also a sequence showing one of the film’s producers, the Canadian actor Iain Quarrier, declaiming passages from “Mein Kampf” in a used-magazine store, and footage of black revolutionaries, among them the musician Frankie Dymon Jr., reading incendiary excerpts from Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” in a junkyard. That Mr. Godard’s camera is as mobile here as it is in the Rolling Stones’s rehearsal scenes (and that two women subject Mr. Dymon to a barrage of questions) suggests that, like the movie’s title song, the black revolution is still finding its form.

Many sequences are introduced by the filmmaker’s punning intertitles (“All About Eve,” “Under the Stones the Beach”). Intermittently, the soundtrack is dominated by an often hilarious near-pornographic political thriller suggestive of William S. Burroughs that, in addition to a scurrilous episode involving the pope, includes a reference to “Uncle Mao’s yellow submarine.”

This stimulating assemblage had a notably tumultuous premiere at the 1969 London Film Festival. Bowing to commercial considerations, the producers had renamed the movie “Sympathy for the Devil” and dubbed the complete recording of the song over the last sequence. In response, Mr. Godard assaulted Mr. Quarrier onstage and suggested that the audience demand a refund. He had a point. The use of the finished song not only undermines the film’s argument that the revolution is a work in progress but distracts from the majestic closing shot in which Eve Democracy collapses on a camera dolly, which sweeps her up into the sky.

The versions alternated when the film opened in New York in April 1970. “Why anyone, given the choice, would prefer a producer’s version of a movie to the director’s escapes me,” Roger Greenspun wrote in his review for The New York Times. MoMA is showing the complete “Sympathy for the Devil” and following it with the ending of “One Plus One.” Would that it were the reverse, screening the entirety of “One Plus One” and the conclusion of “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Rewind is an occasional column covering revived, restored and rediscovered movies playing in New York’s repertory theaters.

Sympathy for the Devil
Sept. 13-19 at the Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan; 212-708-9400, moma.org.


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