C: Eddie Constantine (Lemmy Caution), Anna Karina (Natacha von Braun), Akim Tamiroff (Henri Dickson), Howard Vernon (professor Léonard Nosfératu alias von Braun), László Szabó (chief engineer), Michel Delahaye (von Braun's assistant), Jean-André Fieschi (professor Heckell), Jean-Louis Comolli (professor Jeckell), Christa Lang (1st seductress third class), Valérie Boisgel (2nd seductress third class), Jean-Pierre Léaud (cameo as a breakfast waiter).
Locations: 4.1.-14.2.1965, Paris - Maison de la Radio, Palais des Expositions, Les Machines Bull, EDF building (Paris 12, Paris, France - computer center), Esso tower (La Défense, Hauts-de-Seine), Scribe Hotel (1 Rue Scribe, Paris 9).
Helsinki premiere 20.8.1965 Ritz, Scala, distributor: Cinelux-Filmi – telecast 5.11.1979 MTV1, 1.2.1989 YLE TV1, 22.5.2009 YleTeema (Kino Teema) – VET 72304 – K12 – 98 min
A vintage KAVI print (deposited from Cinelux-Filmi) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by n.c. / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jean-Luc Godard), 19 June 2014
"Nous vivons dans l'oubli de nos métamorphoses".
– Paul Éluard: Capitale de la douleur
A film of poetry, myth, dystopia, and mordant gags.
Yet another of Jean-Luc Godard's genre reversals. He had made crime films (A bout de souffle, Bande à part), a musical (Une femme est une femme), and a war film (Les Carabiniers). Now he turned to science fiction.
The surface approach is irreverent, dominated by a sense of play. Godard has fun with genre, and with Eddie Constantine's star image as Lemmy Caution. Godard is not laughing at genre or the star system; he is laughing with them. (It is compatible with Rick Altman's genre theory that Alphaville is a genre blender with aspects of science fiction, policier, spy film, and even Western.)
But more fundamentally, it's deadly earnest. Godard takes the story as seriously as it gets. The basic drive is mythical. "The strange adventure of Lemmy Caution" is an Orphic quest where the hero visits the Land of Death ("The Capital of Pain"). Although Lemmy Caution is introduced as a strong silent man, a gunman with few words or none, surprisingly he finally conquers Alphaville with love and poetry.
In Finland we can relate this to the Kalevala myth, where Väinämöinen, our Orpheus, conquers Pohjola (The Land of the North) by the power words of his song and poetry.
Alphaville has been linked with Jean Cocteau's Orphic trilogy where Cocteau modernized the myth. In Alphaville, Godard projects the myth into the future, and postmodernizes it.
Lemmy is also Theseus who enters the labyrinth and destroys the Minotaur (the monster computer). (Natacha is not an Ariadne figure, although she is Eurydice to the Lemmy-Orpheus).
Science fiction films can be expensive because of the huge costs of production design and special effects. The great insight and the best joke of Alphaville is that the land of future, the land of death, was filmed in contemporary Paris, without even an art director assigned for the movie.
Alphaville is no pre-cyberpunk film, but it belongs to the pioneer films about the computer world and the power of information technology, before Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are some affinities with Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury story and the François Truffaut film, but in them there is no emphasis on the computer world.
There are long passages of Lemmy Caution's adventures inside the huge computer center, the machine mind. The computer is growing in impact. People are governed by logic. Emotion and poetry have become capital crimes. But Lemmy fulfills his mission. Professor von Braun, the master of Alphaville, is killed, and the Alpha 60 (Alpha Soixante, α 60) is destroyed. In the maze of the computer centre living dead people are soon wandering about. They are stunned, crushed, deprived of light, like ants. They have been transformed into mutants. The universe saved, Lemmy takes Natacha with him in his Ford Galaxy. "Don't look back", says Lemmy. "Je vous aime", says Natacha.
The range of the music by Paul Misraki extends from strident 1950s style crime film sounds to romantic harmonies towards the end.
The Alphaville people have numbers tattooed on their skin like Auschwitz inmates.
There is an auditorium of electric chairs from where the victims can be easily dumped to a garbage heap.
Lemmy shines his shoes on the carpet of the hotel stairs.
The hotel bible is a dictionary which is daily re-edited for illogical words.
A highlight is the Lemmy-Natacha love montage with close-ups and extreme close-ups of eyes and faces. "I moved towards you. I moved towards light".
Another fine scene is the car chase shot from a stark high angle from the rooftop.
Like in Murnau's Nosferatu, there are shots in the negative in the final showdown episode. We are twixt the otherworld and this.
The names of the film production company of Mika and Aki Kaurismäki, Villealfa, and the character of Aki Kaurismäki, Ville Alfa, in Arvottomat / The Worthless, were coined in hommage to the Godard movie.
Raoul Coutard shot Alphaville in Academy, and it must be shown like that. (According to Coutard, all the black and white films of Godard of the period were shot in Academy, and all the colour films in scope). (Although the sixties' subtitles in our copy are printed for widescreen). It consists mostly of nocturnal or interior shots. There is often an intentionally high contrast, and it looks like it's mostly or entirely shot in available light.
The print has been heavily used but a feeling of the original concept of the cinematography is strong and authentic.
Our programme note edited from James Monaco's The New Wave by Sakari Toiviainen:
"Alphaville kuvattiin Pariisin harmailla, talvisilla kaduilla tammi-helmikuussa 1965, mustavalkoisena. Viisi kuukautta myöhemmin Hullu Pierrot kuvattiin Rivieran varhaiskesän hehkussa väreissä ja laajakankaalle. Molemmat elokuvat ovat yleisluontoisia, kattavia yhteenvetoja Godardin moraalisesta maailmasta. Molemmat ovat rakkauskertomuksia; toinen päättyy elämään ja rakkauden uudelleenlöytämiseen, toinen päättyy kuolemaan ja kieltoon. Molemmat ovat syvällisesti runollisia, käsitteellisiä ja moraalisia kertomuksia."
"Etenkin Alphavillen juuret ovat runoudessa. Tekstinä Godard käyttää Paul Eluardin 1920-luvun alussa ilmestynyttä teosta La Capitale de la douleur (”Tuskan pääkaupunki”), joka aikoinaan tavoitti vasta löydetyn autiomaametaforan totuuden. Myös Alphaville on ”Hirvittävän yön kaupunki”. Samalla juonen runko ja jotkut kuvatkin muistuttavat Jean Cocteaun elokuvarunoelmasta Orfeus: Lemmy Caution johdattaa Natacha von Braunin pois pimeyden kaupungista paljon samaan tapaan kuin Orfeus Eurydikensä. Alphaville on ”tieteistarina”, mutta lajityypin parhaan perinteen mukaisesti se näkee mieluummin tieteen runouden kuin sen matemaattisen logiikan ja mieluummin fiktion käyttökelpoisuuden kuin sen fantasian. François Truffaut’n Fahrenheit 451:n (jonka kuvaukset alkoivat kuukautta myöhemmin) lailla Alphaville ei pyri näyttämään tulevaisuutta pelottavana, vaan nykyisyyden. Kuten Mefistofeles sanoo Faustille näytelmässä, joka on science fictionin monien myyttisten rakenteiden prototyyppi: ”Miksi, tämähän on helvetti, enkä minä ole sen ulkopuolella”. "
"Godardille Lemmy Caution ei ole niinkään tulevaisuuden matkaaja kuin mies menneisyydestä, joka tulee käymään hirvittävässä nykyajassa. Lemmy Caution ja Eddie Constantine ovat peräisin amerikkalaisen dekkarimuodon ranskalaisista parodioista. Jotta asia tulisi selväksi, Lemmy nähdään eräässä alkupuolen kohtauksessa lukemassa Syvää unta ja häntä ennen on Alphavilleen lähetetty Dick Tracy ja Henri Dickson (joka niinikään on ranskalainen versio amerikkalaisesta yksityisetsivästä). Syvän unen lailla Alphaville on enemmän moraalinen mysteeri kuin sovinnainen rikostarina, ja Bogartin Marlowen kanssa hänelle on yhteistä tietty eksistentialistinen moraali. Se erottaa hänet myös kaupungin asukkaista, joille on luonteenomaista etiikan ja rakkauden täydellinen puuttuminen."
"Ehkä Alphaville on parempi nähdä fiktiona kulttuurin tulevaisuudesta kuin tieteisfiktiona. Kaikkien Orfeus & Eurydike -myyttien tavoin se käsittelee pimeyden ja valon taistelua. Tällä kertaa alamaailma on nykyajan Pariisi, siinä määrin pimeyden maa, että otettaessa valokuvia päivällä on pakko käyttää salamavaloa. Alphaville on enemmän merkkien kuin ihmisten kaupunki. Merkkejä näkyy kaikkialla: ympyröitä ja nuolia, suuntamerkkejä, kovaäänisohjeita tietokone Alpha 60:ltä, Eisensteinin kaavoja pahaenteisinä neonvalomerkkeinä. Tämä pimeyden maailma on semiologinen; Lemmy onnistuu voittamaan sen, koska hän uhmaa yksinkertaisten merkkien logiikkaa oman älynsä ja tuntemansa kirjallisuuden runoudella. ”Ihmisistä on tullut todennäköisyyden orjia”, meille sanotaan; Caution taistelee mahdollisen puolesta. Cahiers du Cinéman kriitikot Fieschi ja Comolli esiintyvät professori von Braunin apulaisina. Mutta Caution on henkilöiden, ei kriitikkojen, kokemuksen, ei analyysin puolella."
– James Monaco (teoksessa The New Wave, 1976) ST. Tekijätietoa päivitti 22.11.1999 AA
Wikipedia on Alphaville:
"Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) is a 1965 black-and-white French science fiction film noir directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It stars Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Howard Vernon and Akim Tamiroff. The film won the Golden Bear award of the 15th Berlin International Film Festival in 1965."
"Alphaville combines the genres of dystopian science fiction and film noir. There are no special effects or futuristic sets; instead, the film was shot in real locations in Paris, the night-time streets of the capital becoming the streets of Alphaville, while modernist glass and concrete buildings (that in 1965 were new and strange architectural designs) represent the city's interiors. The film is set in the future but the characters also refer to twentieth century events; for example, the hero describes himself as a Guadalcanal veteran."
"Expatriate American actor Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a trenchcoat-wearing secret agent. Constantine had already played this or similar roles in dozens of previous films; the character was originally created by British pulp novelist Peter Cheyney. However, in Alphaville, director Jean-Luc Godard moves Caution away from his usual twentieth century setting, and places him in a futuristic sci-fi dystopia, the technocratic dictatorship of Alphaville."
"Lemmy Caution is a secret agent with the code number of 003 from "the Outlands". Entering Alphaville in his Ford Mustang, called a Ford Galaxie, he poses as a journalist named Ivan Johnson, and claims to work for the Figaro-Pravda. He wears a tan overcoat that stores various items such as a M1911A1 Colt Commander automatic pistol. He carries a cheap Instamatic camera (new in 1965) with him and photographs everything he sees, particularly the things that would ordinarily be unimportant to a journalist."
"Caution is, in fact, on a series of missions. First, he searches for the missing agent Henry Dickson (Akim Tamiroff); second, he is to capture or kill the creator of Alphaville, Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon); lastly, he aims to destroy Alphaville and its dictatorial computer, Alpha 60. Alpha 60 is a sentient computer system created by von Braun which is in complete control of all of Alphaville."
"Alpha 60 has outlawed free thought and individualist concepts like love, poetry, and emotion in the city, replacing them with contradictory concepts or eliminating them altogether. One of Alpha 60's dictates is that "people should not ask 'why', but only say 'because'." People who show signs of emotion (weeping at the death of a wife, or smiling) are presumed to be acting illogically, and are gathered up, interrogated, and executed. In an image reminiscent of George Orwell's concept of Newspeak a dictionary in every room that is continuously updated when words that are deemed to evoke emotion become banned. As a result, Alphaville is an inhuman, alienated society of mindless drones."
"Caution is told that men are killed at a ratio of fifty to every one woman executed. He also learns that Swedes, Germans and Americans assimilate well with Alphaville. Images of the E = mc² and E = hf equations are displayed several times throughout the film as symbols of the regime of logical science that rules Alphaville. At one point, Caution passes through a place called the Grand Omega Minus, from where brainwashed people are sent out to the other "galaxies" to start strikes, revolutions, family rows and student revolts."
"As an archetypal American anti-hero private eye in trench-coat and weathered visage, Lemmy Caution's old-fashioned machismo conflicts with the puritanical computer (Godard originally wanted to title the film Tarzan versus IBM). The opposition of his role to logic (and that of other dissidents to the regime) is represented by faux-quotations from Capitale de la douleur (Capital of Pain), a book of poems by Paul Éluard."
"Caution meets Dickson, who soon dies in the process of making love to a "Seductress Third Class". Caution then enlists the assistance of Natacha von Braun (Anna Karina), a programmer of Alpha 60 who is also the daughter of professor von Braun (although she says "I have never met him"). Natacha is a citizen of Alphaville, and when questioned says she does not know the meaning of "love" or "conscience". Caution falls in love with her, and his love introduces emotion and unpredictability into the city that the computer has crafted in its own image. Natacha discovers, with the help of Lemmy Caution, that she was actually born outside of Alphaville. (The city name is given as Nueva York—Spanish for New York instead of either the original English name or the French literal rendering "Nouvelle York".)"
"Professor von Braun (the name is a reference to the German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun) was originally known as Leonard Nosferatu (a tribute to F. W. Murnau's film Nosferatu), but Caution is repeatedly told that Nosferatu no longer exists. The Professor himself talks infrequently, referring only vaguely to his hatred for journalists, and offering Caution the chance to join Alphaville, even going so far as to offer him the opportunity to rule a galaxy. When he refuses Caution's offer to go back to "the outlands", Caution kills him with a pistol shot."
"Alpha 60 converses with Lemmy Caution several times throughout the film, and its voice is seemingly ever-present in the city, serving as a sort of narrator. Caution eventually destroys or incapacitates it by telling it a riddle that involves something Alpha 60 can not comprehend: poetry (although many of Alpha 60's lines are actually quotations from the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges; the opening line of the film, along with others, is an extract of Borges's essay "Forms of a Legend" and other references throughout the movie are made by Alpha 60 to Borges's "A New Refutation of Time"). The concept of the individual self has been lost to the collectivized citizens of Alphaville, and this is the key to Caution's riddle."
"At the end, as Paul Misraki's musical score reaches its climax, Natacha realizes that it is her understanding of herself as an individual with desires that saves her, and destroys Alpha 60. The film ends with her line, "Je vous aime" ("I love you")."
"Despite its futuristic scenario, Alphaville was filmed entirely in and around Paris and no special sets or props were constructed. Buildings used were the Electricity Board building for the Alpha 60 computer centre and the Hotel Sofitel Paris le Scribe."
"Constantine came to the film through producer André Michelin, who had the actor under contract. Constantine had become a popular actor in France and Germany through his portrayal of tough-guy detective Lemmy Caution in a series of earlier films. Godard appropriated the character for Alphaville but according to director Anne Andreu, Godard's subversion of the Lemmy Caution "stereotype" effectively shattered Constantine's connection with the character—he was never again offered a Lemmy Caution role and reportedly said that he was shunned by producers after Alphaville was released."
"The opening section of the film includes an unedited sequence that depicts Caution walking into his hotel, checking in, riding an elevator and being taken through various corridors to his room. According to cinematographer Raoul Coutard, he and Godard shot this section as a continuous four-minute take. Part of this sequence shows Caution riding an elevator up to his room, which was achieved thanks to the fact that the hotel used as the location had two glass-walled elevators side by side, allowing the camera operator to ride in one lift while filming Constantine riding the other car through the glass between the two. However, as Coutard recalled, this required multiple takes, since the elevators were old and in practice they proved very difficult to synchronize."
"Like most of Godard's films, the performances and dialogue in Alphaville were substantially improvised. Assistant director Charles Bitsch recalled that, even when production commenced he had no idea what Godard was planning to do. Godard's first act was to ask Bitsch to write a screenplay, saying that producer Michelin had been pestering him for a script because he needed it to help him raise finance from backers in Germany (where Constantine was popular). Bitsch protested that he had never read a Lemmy Caution book, but Godard simply said "Read one and then write it." Bitsch read a Caution book, then wrote a 30-page treatment and brought it to Godard, who said "OK, fine" and took it without even looking at it. It was then given to Michelin, who was pleased with the result, and the "script" was duly translated into German and sent off to the backers. In fact, none of it even reached the screen and according to Bitsch the German backers later asked Michelin to repay the money when they saw the completed film."
"Jean Cocteau was one of the artists who exerted significant influences on Godard's films, and parallels between Alphaville and Cocteau's 1950 film Orpheus are evident. For example, Orphée's search for Cégeste and Caution's for Harry Dickson, between the poems Orphée hears on the radio and the aphoristic questions given by Alpha 60, between Orphée's victory over Death through the recovery of his poetic powers and Caution's use of poetry to destroy Alpha 60. Moreover, Godard openly acknowledges his debt to Cocteau on several occasions. When Alpha 60 is destroyed, for instance, people stagger down labyrinthine corridors or cling blindly to the walls like the inhabitants of Cocteau's "Zone de la mort", and, at the end of the film, Caution tells Natasha not to look back. Godard compares this scene with Orphée's warning to Eurydice, and it is also possible to detect a reference here to the biblical flight from Sodom."
"The voice of Alpha 60 was performed by a man with a mechanical voice box replacing his cancer-damaged larynx. It is descended from the hypnotic power of Mabuse's disembodied voice in the 1933 film The Testament of Dr Mabuse." (Wikipedia on Alphaville)