Hot Docs 2014 Review: The Writer With No Hands
British author and propaganda expert Matthew Alford revels in conspiracy. But unlike the herd of conspiracy theorists – from the Truthers to the Birthers to the Illuminati saber rattlers – whose whacky detachment and lack of scholarly background nets more farce than force, Alford isn’t as easy to dismiss. He is an academic, having completed his doctorate from Bath University on US Cinema and Politics. In his controversial book Reel Power, Alford describes Hollywood’s collusion with the military industrial complex. While it prides itself on it’s progressive values, Hollywood, Alford states, serves the most regressive of interests, pumping out highly politicized propaganda that cheerleads for American imperialism, operating under the direct influence of the DoD. Is it any coincidence that the US Air Force saw it’s enrollment increase 500% in the wake of Top Gun’s global success? Alford thinks not.
The Writer with No Hands follows Mr. Alford as he appoints himself as the journalist to uncover the mystery surrounding the death of noted screenwriter Gary Devour in 1997 (Dogs of War). Devour was writing a script detailing a classified operation that implicated the CIA in global drug and money heists. Devour’s body was discovered in an aqueduct with both the script and his hands missing. Alford knew it needed further investigation.
Watching Alford navigate through the labyrinth of murky clues and speculation makes for an intriguing watch. An interview with Oscar-winner and victim of government silencing Haskell Wexler is the documentary’s high water mark, grounding the conspiracy in a very unsettling reality.
Unfortunately, The Writer with No Hands crumbles in it’s own ambition, never fully aware of what it wants to accomplish. Does it want to expose a government-sanctioned assassination of a Hollywood scribe or is it a cautionary tale of the personal unraveling that occurs when one ventures down that all-consuming conspiracy theory rabbit hole? The filmmakers tip-toed around fully committing to either case, and much like most conspiracy theories, the end result fails to produce any closure.