With the Rolling Stones having grown from their rhythm and blues roots to national notoriety and then travelled through the psychedelia of Satanic Majesties Request, the band were trying to hitch a ride home to the Americana that had started their journey. But while 1968’s Beggars Banquet would be a celebration of the Delta Blues, they would tip their hellish hat to the experimentation of their last LP with the track ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. Watch below as the French New Wave director Jean-Luc Goddard captures the band writing their iconic hit as part of his film One Plus One.
The film is a highly regarded piece of cinema and, in truth, a valuable piece of historical and social cinema. It would document the Stones at the highest point they could reach before becoming the untouchable rock Gods they are today. This was the Stones at their challenging, engaging and unabashed best – real rock and roll stars. Goddard uses this and the creation of their music as valuable breathing points throughout a film which otherwise is intent on capturing the situational and dysfunctional stance of the sixties.
The film sees Black Panthers executing white virgins in a disused carpark, in another scene a bookseller reads Mein Kampf to Maoist hippies, while in the final scene the corpse of a female urban warfare guerilla, blood and all, is raised to the Stones’ soundtrack. Challenging stuff. But while looking back at this film with modern eyes can leave it feeling very avant-garde, the reception at the time was fairly muted. Its overuse of iconography and political posturing left audiences feeling cheated – it was clear they expected more from Goddard.
So too, it seems, did the film’s producer Iain Quarrier who retitled One Plus One as the Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil and chucked on the completed version of the Stones track to the end of the film. It was a move that would leave Goddard fuming and Quarrier with a black eye (provided by Jean-Luc). But the film would gather pace after it’s release and find sympathy from critics at the New York Times among others.
The moment that has us spoun around is seeing the band. complete with founding member Brian Jones, work on their now-famous track. Seeing Keith and Mick especially, as Keith works on the timing of the strum pattern with Jagger, Mick finds the vocal range of the song which would set him apart as one of the most brilliant rock singers of all time.
That scene and the film have now been fully restored in 4k, the clips and trailer of which can be seen below. It remains today as a truly vital piece of cinema as well as a crucial piece of social documentation. One Plus One acts as a window into a moment of rock and roll history, where we see a band like The Rolling Stones, plumped and pumped with artistic nous, determined to not be pinned down by the views of the establishment, but, in fact, to set their hearts on destroying it.
This is a moment when rock and roll was still capable of making history.