[March 26 2020] : film
|Jean-Luc Godard moved to London in 1968 intending to make a film about abortion. In a seminal plot-twist, he ended up in a recording studio with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman. The 1968 Abortion Act, which legalized abortion, was passed by the British government shortly after his arrival. Godard suddenly felt that abortion didn’t need his advocation anymore. He told producers he would stay in London on the condition that he could work with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. The Beatles met with him but weren’t convinced at the end of the meeting – they turned him down. Godard moved on to the Rolling Stones who were happy to join forces with the pioneering filmmaker.
Perhaps Godard’s most political film, One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil), is an avant-garde documentary based on the artistic process and is most notable for its scenes depicting the creative evolution of the song “Sympathy for the Devil” as the Rolling Stones constructed it over the course of many recording sessions at Olympic Studios in London. Jagger sings “Please allow me to introduce myself,” partially reflecting what has already been written or spoken about himself, and the corrupting effect of rock and roll. Jagger, therefore, indulges in the role the media and the public have placed upon him. The song, in many respects, becomes a political anthem encompassing cultural and political figures and revolutionary events throughout history.
The first remarkable artistic dimension of the film is the music. It’s not exactly a soundtrack or score. It’s a rare movie that connects cinema and music in a deeper manner. Generally, music is added to a movie in post-production (during the editing). However, here, the music is a living part of the movie. The Rolling Stone’s recording is the film’s main character. The band mates producing it are the supporting actors. The use of the slow camera movement in the recording studio places the viewer’s attention upon the use of sound. During the studio scenes, there is a uniformity of shots. Preferring to shoot in a detached long shot, there is an occasional use of a medium close-up that, more often than not, shows the back of an individual band member’s head, rendering him faceless, as if to depict a form of anonymity or uniformity.
Returning to the political aspect of the film, the song Sympathy for the Devil is a statement from Jean-Luc Godard, who always refused to consider cinema as Marxist propaganda or a simple revolutionary medium. Cinema for Godard is its own world. He uses the music in this movie as the main political medium. Pop and rock music were the main political sources of free expression for the masses, largely responsible for changing the mentality of an entire new post-war generation. Destruction and Construction are two major themes that remain present throughout the film. There is the band constructing while the world around them falls into destruction. Construction and destruction must co-exist.
One Plus One, the original title Godard gave to the film, is a mathematical equation that he uses to express the creative process in a simple way. Using the title, Godard is expressing his artistic point of view on what is a true “revolution.” Revolution is an artform, it’s always a creation. A work of art is a collective process. One individual plus another individual like the Rolling Stones recording their song – the star of the film. Making a film is the epitome of a collective creative process. Being in love, eradicating racism (Black Panthers are a predominant aspect of the film), making music, all require a collective creative process to succeed. Even “solitary” artforms such as writing or painting are collective creative processes. The lonely painter or writer has an internal dialogue with themselves and the person they have in mind while they execute their art. Things stay authentic and real. The (+) is the additional aspect of creativity and poses the questions: What are you adding to the world?” “What Is a collective creative process?” Godard believed in collectivity. In 1969, he went on to help create The Dziga Vertov Group with other politically active filmmakers (named after soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov). One of the main premises of the group was to reject personal authorship by refusing to sign their names on their films. The group dissolved in 1972 and he later co-signed many films with his partner Anne-Marie Miéville.
When you break Godard’s equation of 1+1 and it suddenly becomes 1+2 or 1+3, 1 + a group, it shifts to politics A.K.A bullshit. This is when we can define politics as an abusive form of the creative process. The politician or C.E.O puts people to work and pretends to represent them. The creative process is anarchist. It’s never pretending to speak beyond the people in the room. With this film, Godard says stay with the equation of 1+1 never morph into 1+2 or beyond. This movie can be seen as Godard’s political and artistic statement where it chooses to depart from the French Nouvelle Vague into new territory.
Actress Anne Wiazemsky (Godard’s wife at the time) can be seen throughout the film spray painting different political slogans on public objects in different settings juxtaposed to scenes of the Rolling Stones recording. Godard once said in an interview, “But, you know, I think it was Baudelaire who said that it was on the toilet walls that you see the human soul: You see graffiti there– politics and sex. Well, that’s what my film is.”
If you’re interested in watching the entire film it is available to rent or purchase on Apple TV among other sources.
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