‘PLEASE ALLOW ME
TO INTRODUCE MYSELF…’
DVD Review of:
‘SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL’
THE ROLLING STONES by JEAN-LUC GODARD
(2006 – VDC Group, Fabulous Films/ Fremantle FHED1937/A)
No, not Jean-Luc Picard – Jean-Luc Godard, the French Nouvelle Vague director. That is, New Wave director. And just because this movie says ‘The Rolling Stones’ across the box, Jean-Luc saw no reason to regard this as anything less than a Godard picture. After all, he is the real creative intelligence here, surely? He is the star. And the Stones are equally aware of it. They never wanted a counterpart to the Beatles ‘Let It Be’ (1970) movie. They wanted Godard’s radical art-chic credentials to invest, adorn and burnish their own extreme persona. They both – the Stones and Godard, saw themselves as dangerous insurrectionists, largely through their carefully chosen – but safely distanced affiliations. The reflected association flatters them both. Their image. Their self-image. So this film celebrates the coming together of two vital divergent forces of radicalism, Godard’s cine intellectualism and the Stones dandified Chicago Blues. And although the resulting movie catches neither of them at their finest, it’s what it represents that it’s all about.
For Godard, this was his first film in English. But his anti-Hollywood – yet strangely Hollywood-fixated movies had already ripped up the script by inserting slogans, voice-overs, dislocations, speed, cynicism and the romance of existential terrorist. For him, famously, a movie should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order. ‘Le Mėpris (Contempt)’ (1963) with Brigitte Bardot, and ‘Une Femme Est Une Femme’ (1961) with his wife and muse Anna Karina, were his most mainstream concoctions. ‘A Bout De Souffle (Breathless)’ (1959) his best-known. But ‘Alphaville’ (1965) had transfigured Paris into a futuristic noir megacity merely by artful selection and editing. And ‘Weekend’ (1967) destroys narrative in ways that Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel would surely recognise, ending with the uncompromising statement ‘Fin du cinėma’. To critics, he’s perpetrating what they might call semiotics, deconstruction, scrambling of visual signals, creating a breeding ground for jargon and theory. Others might call it contrived and pretentious…?
For the Stones, the album ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ (December 1968) represented a return to form after the critically divisive psychedelic excesses of ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ (December 1967). And as well as providing the movie’s central focus song – “Sympathy For The Devil”, its twelve inches of black vinyl also includes the urgent dissatisfaction of “Street-Fighting Man” which catches the tear-gas flavour of the time better than just about anything else (as if Pete Doherty had the gumption or nerve to celebrate the recent Paris riots), the desolate beauty of the slide-guitar-driven “No Expectations”, as well as the sluttish, lascivious (and possibly paedophile) prowl of “Stray Cat Blues”.
And lyrically “Sympathy For The Devil” is one of their most ambitious songs, as though they’re really trying. The Beatles might have been advocating ‘Love Love Love’, but the Stones ‘rode a tank, held a General’s rank/ when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank…’, yet during its endless recording in the Barnes ‘Olympic Studio’ there’s long periods of aimless tedium and bored strumming. Keith slumps on the floor, immaculately dissolute. Mick perches on a high stool flexing his flexible lyric-book. Charlie is boxed-off in a drum-booth. Bill looks bored. Brian sits in striped pants strumming his guitar, so into himself his eyes are closed oblivious to everything around him, his head swaying to his own internal rhythms (‘…the guitar players look damaged/ they’ve been outcast all their lives…’). The movie charts the long slow process of the track’s evolution, from the first vague chords picked out on guitar, through percussive breaks, to Marianne and Anita sharing a mic to dub on the ooo-ooo’s, as Charlie stands aside disdainfully.
Then Godard adds the simultaneous dialogue overlaps that contradict and disrupt the narrative. With Sean Lynch’s pseudo-William Burroughs drone standing in for the Last Poets rap on Jagger’s movie ‘Performance’ (August 1970). Providing a voiced-over pulp novel of gangster sex, drugs and sci-fi which contributes sound-interference in the same way that the spray-can graffiti-slogans add politically enticing word-grid equations. Mao crossed with Art. Hilton crossed with Stalin (at a time when Soviet Premiers were trendier than tacky porn-heiresses). CineMarxism. SovietCong. And sequences with chapter headings such as ‘Outside Black Novel’ or ‘Inside Black Syntax’ where a black militant sits in a rusted wheelbarrow amid mounds of wrecked cars reading pseudo-profundities about ‘revolutionary warfare’, and ‘the taking of political power’ into a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. There’s off-screen gunfire as they execute white hostages.
Then there’s a jump-cut to another unconnected sequence, an ‘All About Eve’ pastoral idyll with a camera-crew stalking and interrogating a monosyllabic girl who gives yes/no responses to ‘marijuana does something to the sense of time, it accelerates it,’ ‘on LSD you begin to die,’ or ‘orgasm is the only moment when you can’t cheat life.’ ‘The only way to be an intellectual revolutionary’ he persists, ‘is to give up being an intellectual…’ Switching abruptly to a garish collage of ‘Men’s Action Magazines’ – ‘King’, ‘Nugget’, ‘Adam’, ‘Parade’ and ‘Duke’, their covers slashed with story-titles such as ‘Slaves Of Sin’, ‘I Gave My Body To Hitler’ or ‘The World’s Gooviest Groupie’. They’re all suspended in a tatty bookshop where the bookseller reads aloud from ‘Mein Kampf’ and purchasers give Nazi salutes…
But does it all mean anything? other than a confused image-jumble sampling confused times. What critic Philip French calls ‘a deliberately incoherent work’ that ‘embraces the madness of the sixties’. And how does it relate to what the Stones were doing? It doesn’t, except that the Stones albums perform a similar function. They are counter-culture irritants. They know all about pose and intellectual games. Of course, the Stones were always sharp enough to realise that hipness equates with blackness, and they never deviated far from that principle. Clear through to their later video for “Waiting For A Friend”. Here it leads them into a flirtation with Black Power – the ‘black united front’, with guns and revolution. And within that, you can see the roots leading all the way from here to Altamont. But that’s another DVD…
‘Sympathy For The Devil: The Theatrical Release’
with ‘One + One: The Directors Cut’ Cupid Productions Ltd, 30 November 1968 (under its original title ‘One Plus One’. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, photographed by Tony Richmond. With The Rolling Stones as themselves, Anne Wiazemski, Francoise Pascal, Joanna David, Monica Walters. www.Fabulous.com
‘SOUNDCHECKS MUSIC REVIEW’
ROLLING STONES –
DVD Review of:
‘VOODOO LOUNGE UNCUT’
by THE ROLLING STONES
(2018 DVD, EAGLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT)
There was tacit agreement during the sixties that the Rolling Stones could never be the world’s biggest band while the Beatles were still around. Hence all they had to do was outlast the Fab Four, then they’d assume the position by default. The strategy was seriously shaken by the loss of Brian Jones, although his death happened during their greatest ever run of albums – from ‘Beggars Banquet’ (December 1968) to ‘Exile On Main Street’ (May 1972). But, as the seventies took hold, with Mick Taylor gone and Ronnie Wood still finding his feet through some decidedly dodgy albums, there were newer and bigger bands around, like Led Zeppelin, then Guns ‘n’ Roses. Although Punk sent shockwaves through Rock it helped the Stones reconnect with their unwashed-bratty origins to result in a renewed run of fine albums from ‘Some Girls’ (June 1978) to ‘Undercover’ (November 1983). Although “Undercover Of The Night” was no more a political protest than “Brown Sugar” was anti-slavery. But meanwhile, there were other stadium-filling contenders, U2 and REM.
‘Voodoo Lounge’ (July 1994), the Stones’ twentieth studio album in July 1994, was in many ways their final mainstream shot for relevance, while they still considered themselves contenders. It was their first since Bill Wyman stepped down, their first through a crafty Virgin-records hook-up, and with Don Was co-producing with the Glimmer Twins. The seedy-moody lead single, “Love Is Strong” was gifted with a powerful high-profile monochrome MTV-video directed by David Fincher, with a giant Keith Richards striding above New York City wielding his guitar. The ‘sadly romantic’ “Out Of Tears” is a keyboard-led Jagger-weepy at its best. While “New Faces”, with its harpsichord echo back to “Lady Jane”, seems a knowing recognition of the Stones longevity, as Jagger ruefully watches the ‘slip of a youth’ drawing the attention of his woman, with the ‘insolent stare’ that was once his own trademark. That the album was the first not to spin off a major hit single, despite healthy sales, proves another signifier of shifting times.
Yet here in the Miami heat – the Joe Robbie Stadium 25 November 1994, Whoopi Goldberg is in no doubt that the band she’s introducing is the world’s best. This DVD runs to the full 150-minute concert, plus twenty-four minutes of bonus tracks, with Whoopi there back on stage for the closing encore “Jumping Jack Flash”. But first, Jagger in red frockcoat opens with ‘I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be’ rewinding to the fused Buddy Holly-Bo Diddley beginnings of it all with “Not Fade Away”. I’ve seen the Stones tired, ragged and frayed, I’ve seen them loose and going through the motions. Here they’re tight and sharp, jolted with an EM-spike of visceral reanimated energies, on top form, athletic, embracing their history, but shoving it all forward. They do their first ‘ancient’ no.1 “It’s All Over Now” from Bobby Womack, who passed June 2014. ‘Ronnie’s done this with two bands’ comments Jagger, and yes, the Faces did it too. Ronnie winces, smokes a fag, closes his eyes and grimaces as he pulls licks from his guitar.
‘We thought to do something untried, something completely different, something we’ve never done before’ jives Jagger, ‘then we thought….’ as Keith plays-in the “Satisfaction” riff. Sheryl Crow joins for “Live With Me” – ‘I forgot to give her the flowers’ simpers Jagger, ‘what’ll she think of me?’ Robert Cray comes on for Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, then the greatest of them all, a genuinely mesmerising Bo Diddley with his own “Who Do You Love?” ‘Our first tour of England in 1963 was with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard… and Bo’ rewinds Jagger. ‘Yeh, tell ya, I enjoyed that one. Now I’m really wiped out.’ There are moods, but the Stones have always honed in on their core cleaving towards black music, to low-rent sex and hard-core sleaze. As late as “Start Me Up” in 1981 – their last UK top ten hit, and no.2 in the States, they were getting away with sneaking ‘you make a dead man cum’ into the fade. And bonus track “I Can’t Get Next To You” is a Temptations song done in an Al Green style. With Charlie’s rhythms as the cohesion for it all.
They take the long walk down to the B-stage for a three-song acoustic set – “Angie”, impossibly reducing the stadium down to small-club intimacy, Jagger on guitar for ‘a country song’ called “Dead Flowers”, and harmonica for “Sweet Virginia”, taking their Americana into the heart of America. There’s a solid four-guitar line-up for “I Go Wild”, Jagger in full voodoo garb for “Sympathy For The Devil”, and a Chuck Berry intro to “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
The Honky-Tonk man Keith sings “Before They Make Me Run” and “The Worst” against Ronnie’s aching dobro. Keith wears Whoopi’s velvet coat ‘off her back’ and grins mischievously into the camera. Jagger stoops to pick a thrown red rose. ‘Yes, it’s a glamorous life’ he mocks as he cleans spill from the stage floor. As the huge studded tongue lolls across the screen above them, the global highest brand-recognition logo, locked into Cyberworld stage design inspired by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with struts, arcs, scaffolding and bridges. Even though there are new faces. The set gets enriched by fat sax solos from ‘our old friend’ Bobby Keys, who passed December 2014, ‘another goodbye to another good friend’. Backing vocalist Lisa Fischer is delightful in white shorts and leopard-print knee-boots, with a Jagger #Metoo booty moment. Darryl Jones’ white bass defines the big production number “Miss You”. While Chuck Leavell does the keyboard fills once done by Ian Stewart, who passed December 1985. And South African back-up voice Blondie Chaplin, who was briefly a Beach Boy.
There are cult ‘Nuggets’ freak-beat garage-bands with high-priced cult-collectable singles of awesome power. But there’s so many throw-away Stones ‘B’-sides that we take for granted with greater snotty-energy, any one of them strong enough to embed a career. Beat-up, torn and frayed with more last hurrahs to come, they’re still a dirty slap in the face of the slickly-processed over-produced twenty-first century. Oddly, the Stones are finally the biggest Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world at a time when it means very little, having outlasted every other major rival – unless you count people like Metallica who are festival-massive but mean little or nothing to the outside world. There may be no more global Rock heroes, but everyone knows the Rolling Stones.
‘Give thanks’ says Keith, ‘I know I do.’
‘R’N’R: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 no.73’
(UK – January/February 2019)
Featured online at:
‘IT: INTERNATIONAL TIMES’
(6 April 2019)