A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

Eddie Constantine in Alphaville
Lemmy Caution: Eddie Constantine
Natacha von Braun: Anna Karina
Henri Dickson: Akim Tamiroff
Professor von Braun: Howard Vernon

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Production design: Pierre Goffroy
Music: Paul Misraki

I think Alphaville may have been responsible for my former distaste for Godard movies: When I saw it on its first American run -- probably at that temple of Harvard hip, the Brattle Theater -- I couldn't figure out why anyone would make a sci-fi movie starring an American-French B-movie actor as a trenchcoated secret agent in a future that looked a lot like contemporary Paris. Or why the beautiful Natacha Von Braun should fall in love with anyone who looks like Eddie Constantine -- the apparent survivor of a close encounter with a cheese grater. But time and experience teach you a lot about what's really witty, and Alphaville is that. Yes, it's a spoof on both sci-fi and spy movies, with Paul Misraki's score providing the familiar dun-dun-DUNN! underscoring of suspenseful moments as Lemmy Caution slugs and shoots his way out of ridiculously staged confrontations. But how many spoofs have we seen that fall flat because they're so self-conscious about their spoofery? Godard's spoof  succeeds because Constantine, Karina, and that great slab of Armenian ham Akim Tamiroff take their roles so seriously. Like most Godard movies, it's often absurdly talky, but the talk is provocative. And even though it seems to be designed to make a point about the way contemporary design and architecture have a way of alienating us from the human, it doesn't hammer the point. My one complaint in this recent viewing is that Turner Classic Movies showed a muddy print in which the subtitles had their feet cut off.