Friday, March 28, 2014

Tarzan vs. IBM: Godard's Sci-Fi Pulp Reverie Alphaville at Belcourt

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 3:19 PM

From this week's Scene:

It's brilliant and baffling in almost equal measure, but Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, an associative 1965 jumble of sci-fi, Mickey Spillane, comic books, film noir, German expressionism, and political satire, is tantalizing enough to keep you digging at its many layers. Eddie Constantine reprises his role from several '60s Eurotrash thrillers as craggy, fedora-topped Lemmy Caution, secret agent, who drives his Ford Galaxie across a bridge to the alternate world Alphaville to bring back a key scientist — or to terminate him, if need be. Along the way, he collides with Alphaville's emotionless society, in which women are prostitutes, dissenters are assassinated at synchronized swim meets, and the word "love" has been deleted from the Alphavillian bible by its governing computer, Alpha 60.

Filling the screen with formulae, neon signs, blinking lights and references to post-nuke pop science (Von Braun, Fermi, Einstein) and pop culture (Kiss Me Deadly, Dick Tracy, Heckle & Jeckle), Godard portrays a soulless future by emphasizing the most dehumanized aspects of contemporary society: rampant technology, forbidding high-rises, fetishized automobiles. Ideas from this have turned up in many subsequent movies — THX-1138 and especially Blade Runner are hard to imagine without its influence — but Godard's prankish wit, peculiar rhythms and recombinant intelligence are unique. It's difficult viewing, but a real find for those willing to make the effort.

Watch for the stunning Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff (cast for his relation to Touch of Evil, as part of Godard's complex film-criticism subtext) and European horror-movie star Howard Vernon. The gritty, tactile nighttime cinematography is by Raoul Coutard (Shoot the Piano Player), the 2001 monolith of the Nouvelle Vague, who uses no artificial light and almost no special effects to evoke the otherworld that is our world. It plays at The Belcourt in a new DCP release.

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