Hello, everyone! I'm back. I know I haven't written much in the last few weeks. I needed to recharge my reviewing batteries, so I was on a self-imposed hiatus. I wasn't even planning on coming back so soon, but then TotalFilm.com included a link to my page in their weekly Email newsletter. I'm not sure if I was chosen randomly, or if somebody there actually liked what they saw, but this little piece of positive reinforcement gave me some much needed motivation, so I've got a lot of catching up to do. Thanks, Total Film!
I've actually been meaning to watch Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 film, Alphaville for a few years now. I hadn't seen any of Godard's other films yet, but I've seen a few other French New Wave classics, and the thought of a French New Wave science fiction film noir was too cool to ignore.
Alphaville is the story of Lemmy Caution, played by American actor Eddie Constantine, a spy sent into the titular city undercover as a journalist. His mission is to find and destroy Alpha 60, the malevolent artificial intelligence that controls the thoughts and hearts of all of the city's residents.
Lemmy Caution is the embodiment of the American film noir detective, rumpled trench coat and fedora and all, displaced into a dystopian near future. It's pretty cool that Godard got an actual American to play the role, I can't imagine there were a ton of American actors fluent in French at the time (or now, for that matter).
I found the computer, Alpha 60, to be an interesting character. Cold and logical, it rules the city with a iron (silicon?) thumb. If anybody shows any outward signs of irrationality, AKA emotions of any kind, it calls you to a room, interrogates you, and if it deems you irrational, executes you. I read that Alpha 60 was voiced by a man with one of those tracheotomy rings that smokers who got throat cancer use. It gives it a much more unsettling feeling than most other monotonous computer voices from the 1960's.
The city of Alphaville is pretty much just modern Paris. There's not much in the design that makes it very science fiction, it was mostly very modern for the time. Many of the settings in the film were the newer buildings that were built in Paris, presumably after World War II, which looked quite different, colder, and more futuristic than the city's older buildings, and that is actually enough to give Alphaville the space age feel it needs.
Alphaville may have been the first movie to cross science fiction with film noir. I'm not 100% on this, but if that is the case, then other great films such as Blade Runner and Dark City may owe a debt to Godard's film. It's definitely a must watch for any lover of science fiction and/or French movies of the 60's.