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Jean-Luc Godard - The electricity of revolution

Jean-Luc Godard has died at the age of 91. Godard spearheaded the French New Wave of cinema, directing a series of classic films including À bout de souffle (Breathless), Le Mépris (Contempt), Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders) and Alphaville.

Godard's revolutionary influence extended beyond cinema into music. Over the years, a wide range of musicians have cited Godard as an influence in biographies and autobiographies.

Godard's broad artistic approach to life was part of the appeal; the idea that you can switch fluidly between artistic format, medium and role. In his 2017 memoir Grant & I, Robert Forster describes how, as a young man, his Go-Betweens band-mate Grant McLennan "burnt for the screen and wanted to be a reviewer or director, or both, like his heroes François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard." 

Godard made his first English language film in 1968 with Sympathy for the Devil (originally titled 1+1) - an unconventional music documentary. The film fused new footage of the Rolling Stones recording the title song with slogans selected by Godard and set pieces. It captured something of the cultural frisson of the late 60's, characterised by music writer Simon Wells as the 'electricity of revolution'.

The film's set pieces are intriguing and challenging. In an affectionate 2006 Guardian review of the film, Andrew Hussey described it as as a "stew of Situationism and other Sixties stuff. It's all bollocks but it looks superb."

Watching Sympathy for the Devil had a huge impact on a young Patti Smith. In his biography, Nick Johnstone notes an interview given by Patti to Rolling Stone which described how: “we were there night and day. We’d come in the morning and watch it over and over and over again, for five days running." For some, like Patti Smith, it stoked Stones fever.

Sympathy for the Devil is also notable for its inclusion of a cast of characters from the wider arts scene. In his biography of Anita Pallenberg, Simon Wells notes that the film is now a crucial source in her history, because of how it "captured Anita’s presence within the band – a unit that had previously displayed a largely chauvinistic attitude when it came to recording sessions." Anita joined in with the chorus during the iconic chanting sequence, alongside Marianne Faithful (with Brian Jones leaning on her shoulder) and photographer Michael Cooper. Sympathy for the Devil is certainly a fascinating piece of music history and cinema. 

RIP Jean-Luc Godard

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