Titan of French filmmaking Jean-Luc Godard passed away a few weeks ago. One of the most influential twentieth-century directors, champion of a fresh, shocking perspective on the aesthetics and methods of film as an art form, we couldn’t let his passing go without some memorializing. One of these days (have you heard we’re working on a second screening room?), we’ll have the capacity to do the full retrospective he deserves. But until then, we don’t necessarily want to burn any of his core, post-Cahiers-du-Cinéma, French New Wave sea-changers in a 10:30pm slot – we love you, but that kind of undertaking deserves a less limited audience and a less exhausted staff. And thus the opportunity revealed itself to present Alphaville, a bizarre and unconventional cult favorite, in REWIND, Tampa Theatre’s clearinghouse for the bizarre and unconventional.
To the extent that it’s even possible to distill his oeuvre into one sentence, Godard’s principal innovation was breaking every single rule of filmmaking (while making movies whose depth of homage and love for the middle-brow was clear). Think Tarantino, but only for a second, then stop thinking about him entirely. Godard’s actors talked to the camera, frequently with lines that were improvised or written a few minutes earlier. He wantonly disregarded the received knowledge about the eyeline (match it), the 180-degree rule (respect it), jump cuts (don’t use them), etc. Characters wander in and out, the camera choosing to follow them for a while and then breaking off unexpectedly — as Roger Ebert wrote all the way back in 1969, “his films require active participation and imagination by the audience, and most movie audiences are lazy.” Though let’s maybe say “passive” instead of “lazy” — up to a flashpoint in the Sixties, film was entertainment you mostly just sat back and received. But you can’t just let a movie like Breathless or Pierrot le Fou or Weekend wash over you; you’ve got to get in there yourself, hands on the loom, weaving it all together. Your name should be in the credits. You’re a part-time continuity editor.
And speaking of rules most directors wouldn’t break: Alphaville is a futuristic, dystopian sci-fi noir that was filmed entirely in 1965 Paris with no futuristic sets or props. Eddie Constantine stars as Lemmy Caution, a two-fisted pulpy private eye/secret agent (literally – Caution was already a popular character in French detective b-movies) who is tasked with the infiltration of the rationalist, totalitarian city Alphaville and the assassination of the fascist computer that’s running everything. It’s like casting Roger Moore as James Bond in Blade Runner. As Deckard. And then shooting the whole movie on location in Houston. While taking half of his dialogue from Lawrence Ferlinghetti poems. Jammed full of reference, establishing a new style for sci-fi noir while satirizing the science-fetishism of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alphaville is a beautifully composed little knot of chaotic energy – and Godard’s ninth feature film in six years. Join us in wondering once more at the mad genius of Jean-Luc Godard and his strange, delightful Alphaville.
French, with English subtitles