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Film

The reason why Mick Jagger called Jean-Luc Godard a "twat"

There’s a reason that Jean-Luc Godard’s documentary on The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil, isn’t discussed in the same breath as Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home or Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, with the iconic English rock band largely disowning the film after its release in 1968 for not accurately portraying their identity. 

Approaching the band whilst they were recording Beggars Banquet in Spring 1968 at Olympic Studios in London, the influential French filmmaker, known for such classics as Breathless and Pierrot le Fou, asked if he could film their progress creating their 9th American studio album. Agreeing to the proposal, Godard travelled to London in June to set up cameras in an empty studio space just as Mick Jagger was preparing to record a newly-written song, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

Typified by a youthful rebellious attitude that embraced dynamic, fast-paced filmmaking, the contemporary work of Godard initially made him seem like the perfect creative to collaborate with. It helped that the man himself, wearing dark glasses and an ever-stoic demeanour fit the visual description of the type of person the stylish rock band might want to work with, particularly as the revolutionary creative minds weren’t all that dissimilar from one another.  

As the idiosyncratic filmmaker that he was, however, Godard’s vision for the movie went beyond what the band had expected, using a series of strange vignettes and sketches that commented on the creative struggle of the band to get their new album out. Other scenes looked further than this internal challenge, however, with Godard using footage from the Vietnam war to instil a curious political agenda. 

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The financers, Cupid Productions, were understandably taken aback by the final film, with the studio, who were expecting a concert film that would be easily marketable to audiences, furious at the artistic take by Godard. Hating the first cut, the production company forced the filmmaker to do an edit where the band played ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in its entirety, with the director bizarrely omitting this from the film, despite the song sharing its name with the documentary. 

The Stones weren’t best pleased when they saw the result either, with Godard and Mick Jagger clashing shortly after the film was released to the public.  

Asked what the surreal film actually meant, Mick admitted to the press, “I have no idea,” as detailed in the book Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue by Marc Spitz. Irritated at having to explain the movie to the press, the singer attempted to explain the plot, exclaiming, “The lead chick comes to London and gets totally destroyed with some spade cat, gets involved with drugs or something”. 

So frustrated about how the project had gone, later, when Godard claimed the band abandoned him once the studio started meddling with the project, Jagger called the French filmmaker a “twat”. The frontman wasn’t the only one annoyed with the project either, with the famous musician and journalist even adding, “These radical images married to the Stones didn’t have the fucking impact that obviously was the intention”.