[N.B. This article appears at both Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers and His & Hers Movie Reviews.]
After five and a half years, this is my one hundred and seventy-fourth and final article for His & Hers Movie Reviews. Thank you to Richee & Layla for inviting me to write for them back in 2013, for all their support since, and for never wanting a single word or subject in advance. I also thank you all for being along for the ride, as even I often didn’t know what I’d be writing about next.
I will continue to publish new articles, on a variety of subjects, every Sunday at the home of “nostalgia culture crisis since 2016,” Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers, where updated versions will also appear of articles from “The Leigh Spence Moment,” and “L.J. Spence’s Starting Points.”
There comes a time when you want to put theory into practice. For me, that was when you can treat writing an essay like it’s a creative writing exercise, and when learning about a subject creates its own narrative – how else would I explain what logarithms are, the face-off between Dadaist performance art and alt-right political commentators, or the help given to people who wish to identify as Range Rover drivers. My work has improved once I realised, I am in a position where I can safely take a risk, and move my work forward.
Sixty years ago, Jean-Luc Godard – and I will compare myself to him here, because we will never cross paths – also moved from film theory to film practice, as his first feature film, “A Bout de Souffle,” marked the arrival of the French New Wave. At the magazine “Cahiers du Cinéma,” Godard helped to canonise the Classical Hollywood Cinema, and its auteur directors like Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, then spent his career as a film director actively challenging the artform, and the industry, he had placed on a pedestal. Between Godard’s tributes to Hollywood, like “A Bout de Souffle” and “Bande à Part,” and the assaults on narrative like “Week-End” and his version of “King Lear,” sits “Alphaville,” a science fiction film noir comic satire that came fifteen years ahead of “Blade Runner,” and fifty years ahead of themes that pervade current online discourse, and my website.
The plot of “Alphaville” concerns a secret agent, posing as a journalist, entering the city of Alphaville to find a fellow agent, kill the city’s creator, and destroy the computer that runs the city. Anyone found acting illogically is eliminated, and dictionaries are replaced when words begin describing emotions – the computer is confused when poetry is read to it, and destroyed when Anna Karina finally understands she is an individual, autonomous human being, rather than an automatic one.
The intellectual chess game between the secret agent, Lemmy Caution (played by Eddie Constantine, reprising his hard-boiled role from a separate series of films) and the computer, Alpha 60, puts the film’s themes in the forefront: “Do you know what illuminates the night? – Poetry.” “What do you love above all? - Gold and women.” “What is your religion? - I believe in the inspirations of conscience.” “I shall calculate so that failure is impossible. - I shall fight so that failure is possible.”
After “Alphaville,” Godard’s films would become more political, and his films would be used to explore these ideas, and the artifice of film would be made clear to the audience: even in his next film, “Pierrot le Fou,” the bourgeoisie is criticised, while characters break the fourth wall, with the later “Week-End” adding cannibalism into the mix – anything to serve the idea you have.
The ability to tell a story, to help your understanding of the world, is a wonderful – the ability to take the piss while in full command of the facts is just as great. But does writing shape the truth, or is writing, well, truth? Writing is writing, my dear.