France, 1965, 99 minutes, Black and white.
Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff.
Directed by Jean- Luc Godard.
A very unusual film by Jean- Luc Godard. Godard achieved great fame in the early sixties as being part of the French New Wave, along with Truffaut and Chabrol. However, while his films are very cinematic, he had strong didactic and social purpose in his screen plays. He often pays homage to the film genres, frequently the American thriller genres; he is an abstract thinker as well and his films are very serious minded comments on society.
In the late sixties long sections of his films were frequently discussion passages. In the seventies he moved into documentary and television film-making - especially social comment and protest including using Jane Fonda and her anti-Vietnam war stances. While his films were very popular in the sixties, he went out of favour in the seventies but began to make a comeback at the beginning of the eighties.
Alphaville is not quite typical of his films. He certainly pays homage to American thrillers and science fiction films. This is science fiction but is very distinctive insofar as the city used is Paris as it is. With lighting, shadows, sense of movement, the day by day city of Paris is transformed by the camera into Alphaville in an outer galaxy. Mechanisation, technology, computerisation and the turning of human beings into robots is the theme. It is interesting to note that Alphaville preceded the science fiction boom of the seventies, and with its central computer, was made while Stanley Kubrick was in the initial phases of making 2001. The film seems better and more insightful in retrospect which indicates that it was a pioneer film.
Godard's wife at the time, Anna Karina, is the lead star as she was in so many of his films. Gangster player, Eddie Constantine, portrays Lemmy Caution, a private eye, tough lead in the Dick Tracy tradition. The film enjoys its ironies by having Caution as the tight-lipped human hero, even quoting poetry, against the characters who seem more subtle but are in fact mechanised and computerised robots. The film is interesting as an example of French movie-making of the sixties, the work of Godard and its contribution to science fiction trends of the 20th century.
1. The work of Jean- Luc Godard and, his career? His serious point of view in film-making? His cinematic style, intellectual views? The work of a cinema buff? The blend of cinematic style with a point of view?
2. Godard's comments on French society of the sixties? Pessimistic outlook? Hope for society? The choice of science fiction techniques to comment on society? Automation, the giant computer, the human robots? The choice of a galactic world and civilisation? Comparisons contrasts with Earth? The future of Earth? The type of hero that can survive in this world and actually liberate it? Is an Alphaville world possible? By filming in Paris does Godard indicate that it is on the way?
3. The use of science fiction styles and conventions for the message? Audience knowledge of science fiction techniques? Genres? Lemmy Caution's comment about Natasha and vampires? The allusions to horror films and science fiction? The precedents for film-making in 1965? B-budget films? The background of comic book detectives? The apparatus of science fiction? The short cuts in presenting the genre for audience to supply and make their own conclusions about society? The deadpan humour and irony? The devices making audiences work at their response?
4. The satirical use of the world with which we are familiar: light and shadow, buildings, lifts, rooms and corridors? Office buildings and dingy hotels? Technological centres? The film's use of words, language? The reversals of behaviour? The familiar Paris and yet the lighting making it unfamiliar? The ordinary suggestively made unnerving?
5. Eddie Constantine and his appearance and presence, Lemmy Caution and his journalist cover? The Dick Tracy types and the references to them? Audience familiarity with this type? The background of the thirties and the tough way of life? Getting the job done? Brutal yet ultimately more human than the robots? The arrival in the outlands? The comedy with the robot seductress? The need to meet Harry and his degeneration? Natasha and the memories of Earth? The encounters with the officials? The strange experiences and his reactions? The reporter and the ludicrous taking of photos?
6. His being interrogated and puzzling the computer? His use of codes? The decision to attack and escape? The rescue of Natasha? Making Alphaville collapse and the robots go out of control? A brutal hero and his use of cinema violence? The old values and ready solutions their value or not? Human in comparison with robot cruelty and the mastermind scientist controlling by technology?
7. The visual impact of Alphaville: lights, arrows, north and south with heat and cold and snow? The dingy hotels, the emphasis on rooms and their detail, hotels, staircases, lobbies? The emphasis on past, present and future and discussions about their reality? Alpha Sixty and his impact, voice? The seductresses and their style and the irony of repetition? The planner robots and the platitudes of their session? The humour of their statements "I am very well", "Thank you", "Please" The discussion about words and their changing meaning? The Bible dictionary? Godard's comments on the use of words and the vitality of language?
8. The accommodation in Alphaville, hedonism and presuppositions? The sequences in Harry's room and his death? The people waiting? The executions and the irony of the Bother Williams style swimming? The officials and their bland looking on and approval? Executions for thinking and human action ?a social event?
9. The presentation of the Bureau: the comment on occupied and free? The questions for the interrogation and the puzzle? The irony in the use of the name Von Brown and all that it stands for in terms of 20th century technology? Lemmy Caution's attack? Von Brown's collapse, Alpha Sixty collapsing, all dying or collapsing?
10. Natasha as robot? An attractive woman? Caution's trying to jog her memory? The discussions about words and changes? Tears? her behaving inconsistently and becoming more human? The rescue and her learning about love? The deadpan of the profound statements about love? The traditional happy ending but the comment on while had gone before?
11. How clever was the film? How profound the comment on the sixties? The clever and profound use of science fiction techniques for such film-making?