*Dedicated to my Grandad. My first favourite storyteller, whose legacy I could only ever dream of living up to*
The written word is one of humanity’s finest achievements. It allows stories, both fictional and otherwise, to persevere in a more concrete form than by word of mouth alone. A story passed through dialogue alone is prone to embellishment but once written it is frozen in time, like a work of art. Indeed the written word is in itself a form of art, though few works ever reach the same recognition as a painting like the Mona Lisa. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George Orwells 1984 are both well-revered, but this doesn’t mean that lesser-known works are without their own merit.
Wes Anderson’s latest production The French Dispatch is a love letter to those lesser-known forms. An anthology of stories set in the fictional French town of Ennui for its equally fictional magazine The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun perfectly demonstrates the best of journalism.
The Cycling Reporter is an account of a day in the life of an Ennui resident, centered around the quirks of the town and its people. It is factual, expelling statistics like the average snowfall and amount of bodies found in the river per year, but is more concerned with showing the town through the eyes of the people. Without inhabitants, a city is just an amalgamation of empty buildings. It’s the people who make this town come to life, and every walk of life is fairly represented from the mischievous schoolboys to the under-achieving elderly population. It romanticises the town, giving it all the warmth that nostalgia has to offer.
The Concrete Masterpiece is a historical account of an artist painting his magnum opus from inside an insane asylum. It seeks to answer the question “is this man insane, or insanely gifted, or could he be both?” whilst leaving it open to interpretation. It’s a provocative piece that adds humanity to a character who would otherwise be a series of facts. Historical figures are interesting in that you can learn all the details of their life, like their age when they died and who they married, but you’ll never truly know them. Nobody will ever truly know their personal opinions or what they daydreamed about. It creates an odd parasocial bond. A good historian gets all the facts right but a great historian imbues those facts with life.
Revisions to a Manifesto reports on a student uprising and is a testament to the role of journalism in political movements. Journalists, like documentary film crews, are supposed to be there only to observe – but to what extent can that rule be pushed? When should journalists be active participants and what kind of responses would they receive? The piece never truly answers these questions, nor should it. There are certain biases inherent in everything a journalist writes, whether or not they are aware of it, but under certain circumstances, those biases should be allowed prevalence.
The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner is a journalist’s recollection of a particularly intense dinner that consists of a kidnapping, a stand-off, and a car chase. The most interesting aspect is the reporter: a gay man of colour whose first article for The French Dispatch was written from inside a jail cell. It demonstrates the faith that the magazines’ editor was willing to place in his writers, cultivating talent wherever he saw it. Indeed, art can come from anywhere but it is through encouragement and opportunity that it can become great.
The epilogue tells of the end of The French Dispatch after the sudden passing of its creator. As each of the journalists mourn their loss, they begin writing his obituary. There is a sense of obligation, of course, but also one of camaraderie. This is writings greatest gift: the gift of expression. A great deal of emotion can be poured into a written piece, and it can help to deal with those emotions. This too is something that The French Dispatch accomplishes, at least for me.
I’ve often been told that I see media in a way that others around me do not. I approach it out of positivity and am driven by the emotion and artistry in a piece. It sets me apart, I’m told. I’ve also been told that my work is well researched and this sentiment particularly means a great deal to me. More than can ever be conveyed in words.
My writing is my escape. Thank you for indulging me.