May 9, 2008

A Nous La Liberte

This is a French film by Rene Clair from 1931. It focuses on an escaped convict who becomes a phonograph company owner, and then, fearing exposure, becomes a bum. It opens with convicts assembling toys in prison. When it shifts to the phonograph factory the visual imagery draws the parallel between the prison, and the factory. The factory eventually becomes fully automated. On the day that the new automated factory is to be unveiled, the owner/convict is threatened with exposure. He turns the factory over to the workers, and escapes with his friend from prison. The film ends with the happy workers, freed from their prison of labor in the factory singing, and fishing in the Seine or Loire, and the two convicts pursuing a life as happy hobos.

The film draws the parallel between factory life and prison labor. Okay, so far as it goes, but life as a desk jockey is no better. I spent every day of my working life in the private sector wondering if I was going to get fired. And some days I was, or at least laid off. I spent my life using Windows, which I detest, and being forced to use products that were wrong for the job, (Word, WordPerfect) instead of products that were right (FrameMaker). So although I had at least one job that I hated to leave, that was because I was fond of the people I worked with, and not because of the work itself. From my viewpoint, work is something to be endured, not something to enjoy. (Even teaching was not much better. You could say the wrong thing, and a student would complain. Not grade a student’s paper the way they thought it should be graded, and get a complaint. Endure lazy, plagiarizing students, and get no appreciation.)

When the workers become unnecessary, rather than smashing the machines, as the Luddites did in the 19th century, or whining, as the unions did in the 20th, they go fishing. This is the simple minded socialism of someone like William Morris, who indulged in pleasant fantasies about the demise of capitalism. Clair elevates the useless life, as a hobo, above the productive life.