Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alphaville (1965)

Detective Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is sent to the distant space city of Alphaville where he must find a missing person and free the city from its tyrannical ruler.

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In my opinion, the undercurrent of Jean-Luc Godard's first fifteen features (produced within the span of a mere seven year) was the battle between the head and the heart. In the beginning, Godard still held strong ties to the traditional Hollywood cinema he had grown up on and devoured via the Cinémathèque Française. Sure there were lots of highfalutin references to philosophers and poets, but it was still possible for a mainstream audience to get invested in the characters and follow the plot-line. But as his marriage to actress Anna Karina fell apart and the politics of the 60s grew increasingly more radical, the balance started to shift in the opposite direction. By the time he made Weekend in 1967, his films had become little more than primary-colored polemics spoken directly at the viewer.

What makes this dramatic aesthetic turn all the more interesting/depressing is Godard's 9th feature Alphaville. Shot in black and white, on contemporary locations and using Bradbury, Vonnegut, Matheson-esque sci-fi as a model, this film comes down squarely on the side of emotion both stylistically and narratively. So much so in fact, that one would assume this film to be a turning point and signifier of the direction his career was to take from then on. The perfect balance between head and heart. Yet in his very next film Pierrot Le Fou, you can already start to see the balance tipping in the opposite direction as the war in Vietnam begins to weigh heavily upon the proceedings.

Oh well. At least he was able to give us this masterpiece and a few other classics before descending permanently down the rabbit hole into darkness. Le sigh.

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