The French historical drama Le Choc du Futur (The Shock of the Future) is a shameless nostalgia piece. Almost 100% an exercise in aesthetic posturing, its entire thesis is that late-70s synth music sounds cool as fuck and women didn’t get enough credit for pioneering that sound. It’s not wrong; early analog synths and the women behind them are incredibly cool and, apparently, endlessly watchable. The film’s late-70s Parisian setting indulges in the same fashionable, intoxicating cool as last year’s phenomenal porn-industry slasher Knife+Heart, except without all the pesky murders getting in the way of the fun. Even with all that shameless nostalgia driving its every decision, the film somehow comes across as effortlessly charming and, more surprisingly, very much of the moment.
Alma Jodorowsky stars as a fictional synthpop composer in late-70s Paris, an amalgamated character designed to pay tribute to the real-life women who weren’t properly credited for developing the analog-synth sound. At only 80 minutes, the movie is a short & sweet day-in-the-life portrait of this made-up pioneer synth composer. We watch her perform her morning exercises (cigarette in mouth, of course), switch on her wall of heavy-duty synth equipment (with an accompanying, satisfying buzz as the machines fire up), and go about her day creating songs while attempting to pay her bills. Our Moog-wielding heroine occasionally clashes against music industry sexists who devalue her work, but this is mostly a film about process. We’re treated to a crash-course demonstration of what individual pieces of her mysterious equipment do in creating a full synthpop sound, how an individual synthpop song is built from scratch, and what bands were important in inspiring these early analog synth experiments: DEVO, Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Tangerine Dream, Suicide, etc. It’s all very laidback, unrushed, and effortlessly cool (especially if you watch the film with a nice pair of headphones).
Le Choc du Futur stumbles into its of-the-moment relevancy in a very roundabout way. Synthpop (and most subsequent electronic music) is a very private, insular artform – especially in the composition stage. It’s the quintessential bedroom music, a craft that’s usually honed while artists are left alone in their workspaces tinkering with their toys. I’m not sure if you’re aware that the world is ending outside right now, but a lot of us have been holed up inside our homes busying ourselves with similar self-satisfying art projects in an effort to stay sane. The only reason I was able to watch this movie in the first place is because the SXSW film festival was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns and temporarily moved to Amazon Prime as a public service. In that specific, ongoing cultural context, there is something incredibly relatable & satisfying about watching a character work tirelessly alone in their apartment on niche art & go-nowhere projects no one else in the world seems to care about.
It absolutely sucks that women musicians were not properly credited for their contributions to early synth compositions in the 1970s, and Le Choc du Futur is a lovely tribute to the work they created. The film is also just an aesthetically pleasing primer for new-to-the-table fans of the artists & songs that defined that era. More practically, though, this movie is a very comfortable, relatable watch for the current moment we’re struggling through – a snapshot of a D.I.Y. artist creating music for her own satisfaction, despite the crushing odds of the commercial music & marketing industries that do not value her work. Businessmen frequently enter her apartment to disrupt her creative art-for-its-own-sake workflow with concerns & disagreements about her music’s commercial viability, but she mostly blocks out their interference just like how her cheap, tattered curtains block out the sun. We hardly ever see her leave the apartment (except for a couple brief, round-the-block walks), but she uses her confounding wall of heavy-machinery music equipment to go on adventures of her own design, as if she were standing behind the control panel of a spaceship. Le Choc du Futur is the perfect 2020 quarantine movie in that way, even if it was intended to evoke an entirely different era.