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Alphaville (1965)
Suddenly the word is Alphaville... and a secret agent is in a breathless race against the Masters of the Future.
Filmmaker(s): Jean-Luc Godard

An American private-eye arrives in Alphaville, a futuristic city on another planet which is ruled by an evil scientist named Von Braun, who has outlawed love and self-expression.

Alphaville (1965)


Time gives us great advantages. One of these is that we can see art in terms other than the artist used in creating it. The French New Wave was an interesting and timely set of cinematic ideas that were burdened at the time by clumsy theory and some frankly moronic critics.

Now we can be free of this and judge them using terms that have some distance.

Goddard was all about reduction: reducing the story and characters to nothing, or perhaps just mechanical substrate, except for the one or two features on which he was elaborating. Always in that elaboration were cinematic effects, mostly dramatic.

In this film, he was doubly hampered. The first problem is:of all film genres, science fiction carries the most rigid expectations. So reducing from that is harder to follow than many of his usual appreciators can do. But that radicalism only makes this project stronger, not weaker. In fact, the very best Goddard is “King Lear,” which reduces an even more loaded idea, and in the process loses an even greater share of people who get it.

The other thing that hampered him was a massive breakdown in French philosophy at the time. Not philosophy of the arts mind you, but simple knowledge. He is dealing with notions so childish, they embarrass the viewer.

His basic idea is clever: his films are about playing with sense and shifting realities by reducing sense. The less sense overall, the more emotional, intuitive and effective the whole thing.

But he equates the kind of math computers can do with logic (which isn’t such a stretch), and then logic to sense, the kind of expected sense he worries about. This is a really stupid notion, as if he were blurring Halloween into some sort of demonic force that threatens the world — which in fact is what many, similarly stupid films actually do.

So he conflates a 1984-like repressive future with computer logic and with the kind of sense in film and reality he worries about. The problem is that the latter is far richer than the former can support as metaphor.

Along the way, his film about not making sense uses his standard method of reducing the sense. Clever if you know what he is doing and you don’t pay any attention to what he said at the time: it just doesn’t make any sense.

Posted in 2003

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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