Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2020 12:07 pm 
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Girls with synthies

This is a sweet and nostalgic little French tribute to women pioneers in 1970's electronic music. It takes a while to get started, but by intention it builds slowly, and it does not overstay its welcome. It starts with the main character, Ana (Alma Jodorowsky), a dreamy young lady who who wakes up late and seems to live on nothing but cigarettes and a little coffee or whisky from time to time. She's got the indefinite loan of a studio - the owner's in an ashram in India - that she's filled with her impressive battery of synthesizer equipment. Eventually she composes a song with another lady who drops in, and a successful disco singer, toward the end, is interested. Lots of big glasses in this, cigarettes, joints, and bell bottoms.

A lot of this and that in between, and watching somebody twiddling the dials of electronic equipment isn't quite on the excitement level of watching Eliot and Darlene typing code. A couple of scrawny geezers drop by in hats and gold chains and, of course, bell bottoms. Philippe Rebbot is after Ana to do a song for a commercial and is angry she's ignored his recent ten phone messages on the green rotary phone. Geoffrey Carey is more simpatico. He's a record enthusiast who brings new discs for Ana to hear. They giggle and jive enthusiastically to the mostly electronic sounds. Patti Smith's iconic album with the photo by Mapplethorpe is glimpsed.

Teddy Melis is a long haired stoner in wife beater who comes to fix a glitch in Ana's system. I cringed when I saw that what he brings, that excites her so much she insists he lend it to her, is a beat machine (a Roland CR-78 beatbox). This is the great new innovation? But when it's synchronized with her synthi, the latest innovation, it seems, she envisions the new music she loves. "It's like Kraftwerk meets James Brown," she says.

The lady who comes with an appointment to record a song is Clara Luciani, a handsome, longhaired, high cheek-boned dame much like Jodorowsky. Ana wants to cancel but invites Clara in for coffee. Clara so likes Ana's synthi sounds she writes lyrics on a pad as she listens, with English words, and they enthusiastically record the results with Clara singing in one of those wispy French girl voices like Charlotte Gainsbourg.

At one point Ana does a bit of massaging for pay, for some reason. That evening, she gives a party at the studio, crowded with cigarettes and splifs and booze and people and with Geoffrey Carey 's new records playing - till Ana stops the record and starts up the reel to reel tape she and Clara have made. It's well received. But a well-known record producer who's there, alas, isn't interested in synthesizer music or English lyrics. "This is Paris," he intones. "We speak French here." Ana is desolated, but later, she goes out with Clara and they meet the disco singer with real blond frizzy hair that looks like a wig who offers encouragement and get's Ana's phone number. A small but important step forward for a new kind of music.

For a long time the only thing that appealed to me in this little film was Ana's big stylish glasses with their thick tinted lenses. But it is nostalgic and I thought of Rick N., who was a house painter who used to drop acid on days he was working on the tall ladder because it "steadied" him. His real life was being a musician, and he was saving up money to buy a "synthi." I remember that indeed Kraftwerk was the coolest thing back then, that and the way Rick used to sing the Ramones' "I want to be sedated." He liked the surreal group Devo and their nervous, robotic, alien music and song "Are we not men? We are Devo." I wonder what Rick would think of this film.

A weakness of the film is that it doesn't seem to me to put the music's best foot forward, doesn't bowl us over with some really bold, intense, hypnotic riffs. But it's hard to depict music that's walls of sound in little clips, in short scenes. At least you get the sound of it and a glimpse of the kind of apparatus that might produce it. Another minus is the cliched negativity about the currently popular non-electronic music of the time, without reasons really given. This is hardly a deeply thoughtful film.

Le Choc du Futur is dedicated to "women who pioneered in electronic music: Clara Rockmore, Wendy Carlos, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Elaine Rodrigues, Laurie Spiegel, Susan Ciani, Johanna Beyer, Bebe Baran, Pauline Oliveiras, Else Marie Pade, Beatriz Ferrerya, et al."

Le Choc du Futur, 79 mins., opened in France 9 June 2019 Jun. 9, 2019, and later showed at Torino Nov. 2019. It was scheduled for the cancelled SXSW in 2020, and screened for this review as part of Amazon Prime's virtual theater offering of ten SXSW films Apr. 27-May 6.

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