With The Rolling Stones having grown from their rhythm and blues roots into national fame in the early sixties, the band then travelled through the psychedelic explosion that they tried to capture on Satanic Majesties Request. For a while though, it appeared Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the rest of the band were trying to hitch a ride back home to the Americana that had started their journey.
1968 project Beggars Banquet may well have been a celebration of the Delta blues, but the Stones would tip their hellish hat to the experimentation of their last LP with their iconic track ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. As if the band couldn’t be any closer to the epicentre of a counterculture movement, things stepped up a notched when two intensely creative worlds joined forces as French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Goddard, captured 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 part of historical and social documentation too. It would document the Stones at the highest point they could reach before becoming the untouchable rock Gods they are today—still in transition to the heavenly pantheon of rock and roll.
The particular period of time was the Stones at their challenging, engaging and unabashed best — real rock and roll stars not afraid of anyone or anything. Goddard uses this and the creation of their music as valuable breathing points throughout a film which is otherwise insistent on capturing the situational and dysfunctional stance of the sixties.
The film sees Black Panthers executing white virgins in a disused car park. In another scene, a bookseller reads Mein Kampf to Maoist hippies, while in the final plot sees the corpse of a female urban warfare guerilla, blood and all, raised to the Stones’ soundtrack. Challenging stuff.
While looking back at this film with modern eyes can leave it feeling very avant-garde, the reception at the time was relatively 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 acted as the death rattle of the creative sixties. It was a move that would leave Goddard fuming and Quarrier with a black eye (provided by Jean-Luc himself). However, the movie would gather pace after it’s release and find sympathy from critics at the New York Times among others.
The moment in the film that really has fans spun around is seeing the band, complete with founding member, the late Brian Jones, work on their now-famous track. Witnessing Keith Richards and Mick Jagger is extra special, as Keith works on the timing of the strum pattern with the singer, Jagger finding the vocal range of the song which would set him apart as one of the most iconic music singers of all time. That scene specifically -and the entire film – has 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 as illustrious as 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.