This is the post that’s going to offend quite a few film buffs.
It’s going to get me labelled a rube, a philistine.
And I’ll gladly wear those labels just to finally get this off my chest once and for all. Here goes…
In the annals of cinema, there is probably no greater fraud than the pseudo-intellectual “genius” of Jean-Luc Godard. Having stumbled accidentally onto a more freewheeling form of filmmaking (dubbed “La Nouvelle Vague” or ‘The French New Wave”) with À Bout de Souffle (Breathless) , Jean-Luc Godard made a career out of making half-baked movies people project deep philosophical meaning into.
This is not to say Breathless is a bad film, but I really do believe Pauline Kael said it best when she famously complained that film festivals have been polluted by its imitators ever since.
Which brings us to Godard’s foray into science-fiction, Alphaville.
Godard’s own Cahier du Cinéma playmates evolved into amazing filmmakers: Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol for example. But Godard became a one-trick cinematic pony that makes M. Night Shamalayan look humble and profound by comparison.
Not that the films don’t have their merit. But, if truth be told, much of what made french new wave seem so fresh at the time was the use of small Éclair portable cameras which allowed to use real locations instead of being stifled by soundstages. The same cameras were then used by filmmakers who took time to write scripts and actually prepare their movies, leaving Godard to his cultists.
And rabid they are. To speak against God-Art is to insult film itself.
One of my favourite praises for God-Art (yeah, I stoop that low) is that he “makes us aware of the filmic process”. Wow! You mean he makes me aware I’m watching a movie? In that case, James “Birdemic” Nguyen is a fucking god!
God-Art, we are often told, strives for “truth”. “Cinéma is truth 24 times a second.” being his most famous strip of fortune-cookie wisdom, a lot is made of the fact Alphaville uses real locations and props to convey the dystopian world of the future: Paris becomes another planet, a Ford galaxy is a spaceship and the highway out of Paris is outer space. Génial!
The film is also very deep and philosophical as characters take the time to sit down and read Nietzsche in our faces. This is not being intellectual, it’s being a fucking parrot.
Alphaville is a “science-fiction” film for people who never watch science-fiction and denigrate the whole genre based on some condescending prejudice towards enjoyment. It is a direct assault on your sense of logic, all done in the name of being intellectually challenging.
The most laughable claim is to attribute it with having inspired Blade Runner and even 2001-A Space Odyssey because of its many common themes. This, if anything shows how little reading these “intellectals” actually do since the references in Alphaville are not only trite and “common as dirt” but its tropes are the biggest clichés from comic books and pulp sci-fi novels of the type printed by French publishing house Fleuve Noir in that decade. At one point of the film, Caution refers to his contact as “Guy L’Éclair” (which is just the french name for Flash Gordon) and tosses a “007” for good measure. Any rube who has made the minimal reading effort of taking a morning paper or even Le Journal de Mickey to the can can spot those bits immediately. In fact, the film’s original titles was to be “Tarzan contre IBM” (Tarzan versus IBM). It’s laughable alright but you can just hear some practitioner of intellectual-onanism start yammering about the image of the primitive man pitted against the …aaaaah, shaddap!
If you “get” the references, it all sounds like Godard was visited by Marty McFly in a radiation suit and a hair dryer.
(By the way, did you catch El Santo y Blue Demon contra Los Monstruos? It’s genius!)
Alphaville was, quite simply, a cheap-ass monetary fraud perpetrated on the German backers of the film and an intellectual fraud directed at the “eager to be exposed to genius” suckers… I mean audience… it was served to.
American singer Eddie Constantine was a major movie star in Europe, and more specifically Germany, with his portrayal of pulp-fiction detective Lemmy Caution (and you know what? In those movies, he kicked ass!). Godard cast him in the film to satisfy his German backers. When the latter demanded to see a script, Godard asked his screenwriter to pound out one. His writer balked that he had never even read a Lemmy Caution novel so Godard tossed him a copy and told him to get to work. The next day, Godard got a 30 page treatment which he presented to the Germans. Once he got his money, he just went ahead and shot whatever he wanted anyway.
Needless to say the Germans wanted their money back afterwards. And Constantine bitched that he never got to play Caution again.
This form of “switcheroo” is not uncommon of french directors during the jet-set age. Here’s a clip of Roger Vadim on Merv Griffin done a few days before shooting on Barbarella began. If you skip to the 4 minute mark, you will hear Vadim explain this very contemptuous and contemptible practice.
Have you ever seen Being There? In that film, Peter Sellers is a complete and utter moron but snobs and pseudo-intellectuals start projecting depth and meaning to his moronic affirmations to the point where he seems almost messianic in their eyes?
Alphaville is a lot like that. In fact, it IS that.
I won’t be intimidated by film snobs. My dislike of Alphaville isn’t because I don’t get it but rather because I DO!
Here for your most absolute Painjoyment™, is the complete feature so you can see for yourself.
Make sure you’re biting down on something. This one really smarts!
Pain level: 20/10 !!!
Quality of Pain: Non mais il nous prend tous pour des cons, ce mec!