is a fairly dense bit of moviemaking - dense in the 'packed in' use of the word. I'm not a film student, nor a philosophy major, and am unable to speak to (much less identify) most of the references in this film. I didn't even like it all that much. However, it struck me as a strong contemporary of such dystopian works as THX-1138
, The Prisoner
and Logan's Run
. Not that it precisely resembled
them, but the feeling conjured up was similar.
In Alphaville, a city devoted to Logic and Security, arrives Outlands secret agent 003, Lemmy Caution (spelled Ivan Johnson). Within the first few minutes of his arriving in Alphaville, he meets his assigned Seductress (third class), is subject to a psycho-test involving a pimp figure whom he shoots at, and tells a bellhop to get lost without a tip. Confusing? Yup. It doesn't get much better.
Filmed in stark (occasionally reversed) black and white, with plenty of cigarette smoke and night-time traffic, Alphaville tries hard for noir. It doesn't quite achieve it - it fails due to something I can only label as an insurmountable Frenchness. Doesn't matter, though, because the noir it was reaching for was one perverted by future gothic and science.
Lemmy Caution. Why is he in Alphaville? To save it? To destroy it? To save himself? To destroy himself? We won't find out until the end (naturally). The images of 1960s computer fascism alone make this movie worth adding to any aspiring propagandist's visual repertoire. It manages to produce mechanical typewriters in only one scene - which, given its vintage, is an astonishing achievement. The computer which runs Alphaville - Alpha 60 - is never shown as a thing; rather, it is shown as a building full of mechanisms, engineers, scientists, thugs and secretaries. It's a holistic anthill of a compufascistic nightmare, and Lemmy must walk through the middle of it more than once.
The problem is that the movie is a bundle of references all dressed up with nowhere to go, and done in French to boot. It ends up taking all the cultural excitement of the spy thriller, the romance, the sci-fi picture, and the drama - and, much as Alphaville the city would, stomping them absolutely flat amidst incredibly self-important French New-Wave idiosyncrasies and flat-out idiocies. If computers wrote movies, this one would be the work of the IBM 360 of the bunch - mechanistic, longing for the vivid clarity and contrast of digital but managing only an awful analog emulation of bits using warbling magtape. It's not for nothing the movie was also titled as "Tarzan vs. IBM."
Note: kthejoker points out, properly, that Alphaville represented a new vision of the 'computer future' when it was released in 1965 - a warning that the miraculous machines might not produce the technological utopia hoped for and depicted by other films. I'm not enough of a film buff to have made this point, not being as knowledgeable about the movie's contemporaries and predecessors - so take my reaction as such, that of someone not used to the movies this film was released to contrast with.
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by: Andre Michelin
Original Music: Paul Misraki
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
- Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution
- Anna Karina as Natacha Vonbraun
- Akim Tamiroff as Henri Dickson
- Howard Vernon as Professor Leonard Nosferatu Vonbraun
Running time, 99 minutes. Released in 1965.