Jefferson Airplane Plays on a New York Rooftop; Jean-Luc Godard Captures It (1968)

in Film, Music | February 24th, 2012

Just when you think you’ve seen everything Jean-Luc Godard has ever shot, something like this surfaces. If you’re only now considering tucking into the feast that is Godard’s filmography, don’t let his abundance of uncollected odds, ends, clips, and shorts intimidate you. Not only do they promise a little thrill down the road when you’ve already digested his major works, but they offer quick bursts at any time of the revolutionary cinematic zest with which the filmmaker took on the world. With the man alive and working, I should perhaps say “the revolutionary cinematic zest with which the filmmaker takes on the world,” but that gets into one of the most fascinating conversations that swirls around him: has Godard still got it?

Some say yes, that his latest picture Film Socialisme presents the logical continuation of all Godard has ever represented; some say no, that the Godard to watch remains the scrappy star of the 1960s’ French New Wave. In his study Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, New Yorker film blogger Richard Brody somehow makes both claims.



In the chapter “Revolution (1968-1972)” he describes Godard’s improvised method of shooting a 1968 Jefferson Airplane concert:

He took over from the specialists and operated the camera from the window of Leacock-Pennebaker‘s office on West Forty-fifth street, shooting the band on the roof of the Schuyler Hotel across the street. (Pennebaker recalled him to be an amateurish cameraman who could not avoid the beginner’s pitfall of frequent zooming in and out.) The performance took place without a permit, at standard rock volume: as singer Grace Slick later wrote, “We did it, deciding that the cost of getting out of jail would be less than hiring a publicist…”

Amateurish or not, a piece of the footage has surfaced on YouTube. Listen to the Airplane perform “The House at Pooneil Corners,” watch Godard’s dramatic swings of focus and zoom as he attempts to convey the spectacle of the band and the spectacle of countless surprised Manhattanites at once, and think for yourself about this peculiar intersection of two bold lines in the era’s alternative zeitgeist. As Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner said in a 1986 interview, “Just for a while there, maybe for about 25 minutes in 1967, everything was perfect.” But these seven minutes in November 1968, from opening shouts to inevitable arrest, don’t seem so dull themselves.

Related Content:

Jean-Luc Godard’s Rolling Stones

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Commercial

Jean-Luc Godard Meets Woody Allen

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (25)

  1. Tim says . . .
    February 24, 2012 / 4:48 am

    The whole film ( One PM) that the clip is from is also on Youtube.

    Part 1: http://youtu.be/Mtsep1p9inA

    Part 2: http://youtu.be/z_WQaVaKv-U

    Part 3: http://youtu.be/iiPrnziwcQI

  2. Iguanaseeyou says . . .
    February 24, 2012 / 8:38 am

    And where are today’s youth? Did they just curl up inside their cages and escape from freedom?

  3. j.c robinson says . . .
    February 24, 2012 / 9:15 am

    I was there! On the roof! Lived in the Chelsea! What a morning!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Old news says . . .
    February 26, 2012 / 12:09 am

    This has been available on DVD for a long time:

    http://www.jeffersonstarshipsf.com/fly/index.htm

  5. joan says . . .
    February 26, 2012 / 6:34 am

    j.c., i am so envious!
    i was only 6 at the time. watching it now, would have loved to be 18, there, on the roof , with you!
    if only for a moment…

  6. Sergio N. says . . .
    December 2, 2012 / 2:34 am

    Priceless.
    The casual audience is of course the focus here, with the band just providing the soundtrack

  7. Clara says . . .
    December 2, 2012 / 1:20 pm

    Iguanaseeyou, i agree, unfortunately

  8. John Browning says . . .
    April 21, 2013 / 6:39 am

    The sound is bad, not the Airplane. In fact it wasn’t the Airplane, it was beauty that killed the beast!

  9. Martin Sne says . . .
    June 29, 2013 / 5:27 pm

    The world is full of surprises! So that is where The Beatles got the idea from! Wow.

  10. Moss Zu00e1rate says . . .
    October 29, 2013 / 10:32 am

    Ohhhh!!!! Amazing!!!

  11. Jay Winston says . . .
    October 5, 2014 / 5:30 pm

    This “has surfaced on youtube”? It “surfaced” in the documentary “Fly Jefferson Airplane” (available through Netflix) ten years ago…

  12. Magda says . . .
    December 28, 2014 / 5:28 pm

    Is that Jim Morrison and Pam in 1:46? :)

  13. Jon says . . .
    January 31, 2015 / 11:02 pm

    The Airplane were all about trying to evolve us to a better place, maybe naively so. House at Pooneil is an angry piece of music from a thoroughly unsettled time, the idea was to wake everyone up – in this case literally AND figuratively. I would have killed to be there and I wish this kind of passion still existed.

  14. Sergio Mann says . . .
    December 26, 2015 / 10:00 am

    Lucky you, do you think this was before Beatles at roof with Let it be, Dont let me down?

  15. sludgehound says . . .
    January 6, 2016 / 8:26 pm

    Fantastic. FEEDS YOUR HEAD now more than ever when a big deal is to keep ATM fees at just $2 max… Really now that’s all we got to match up with the Airplane??
    Caught them up at SUNY New Paltz and unforgetable.
    Loved that pair looking up from their window right below (famous or not). They looked like could star in a Godard.

  16. St.SteveG says . . .
    January 29, 2016 / 6:15 am

    You just gotta love NYC. Grace is so gorgeous. Jack over the top as ever. And as to Godard? Where would the world of art be without the occasional loose cannon on the deck?

  17. Frazer pennebaker says . . .
    January 30, 2016 / 5:38 pm

    Ricky Leacock and D A Pennebaker (my father) made that performance happen. Godard had pretty much signed off on the film by then. He wanted to go home. See our website for more info on it at phfilms.com

  18. Pablo Picante says . . .
    January 31, 2016 / 4:11 am

    At 16 in NYC a west village tennibopper as they
    Called us we were at almost every show, the free ones in the park, the Fillmore gigs, Woodstock, Atlantic
    City. Often pared with the Dead, jagger in Altmont, referred to them as the Grateful Airplane.. We laughed at thier jealously. The west Coast gave us a playful funk and the pranksters, while Millbrook meditated, Frisco Froliced !

  19. Christopher Potter says . . .
    January 31, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    With the RCA Building in the background….
    Fascinating clip, overrated director, underrated band. Can Grace Slick REALLY be 75?

  20. Pat Loudoun says . . .
    January 31, 2016 / 5:20 pm

    Man, that is one fantastic reminder. That band really sucked.

  21. gbear says . . .
    January 31, 2016 / 7:17 pm

    Home on leave after basic, shined on.

  22. Charlie says . . .
    January 31, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    Gawd. They suck. And I used to like those guys!

  23. kishke says . . .
    February 1, 2016 / 1:32 pm

    Do you appear in the video?

  24. kishke says . . .
    February 1, 2016 / 6:16 pm

    My question is addressed to JC Robinson.

  25. Larry says . . .
    April 21, 2016 / 10:19 pm

    Just, let it be.

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