Favourite Movies: Alphaville

“Machines generated new problems. Problems the human mind couldn’t solve.”

In the first part of an ongoing series about why Jean Luc Godard is a genius, this is about one of the most stunning and engrossing movies I have ever seen. Alphaville. A science fiction film without special effects. Set in a dystopian world that looks identical to Paris and takes us on a visual tour around some of the cities early 1960’s modernist architecture. A movie that is also part Chandler, part film noir, part Orwellian nightmare with a dash of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Jorge Luis Borges.

We meet the leading man Lemmy Caution, who looks like he’s walked out of every Bogart movie you’ve ever seen. He has a look of steely determination. It’s the classic 1960’s movie archetype of a man with purpose. When accosted by a beautiful woman (a level three seductress no less), she’s not given so much as a first glance let alone a second. This is a man with a job to do and he’s intent on doing it. You got this in the early Sean Connery Bond films before the role was ultimately softened and Bond was made to atleast exchange a glib or flirty one liner with the woman. Here, it is the textbook Gregory Peck determined scowl and an assertive “Clear off.” Also on another note writing a hard-boiled character like this also produces stronger women characters within the story as a result, as the women have to be actually y’know relevent and play a part in driving the story forward rather than just eye-candy for the leading man or there to engage in a bit flirty banter or provide a shoulder to cry on, such is the case in most modern movies.

I digress. This is is such a fantastically shot movie and the strength of Godard is in the confidence he has in his actors and the rare ability to just put the camera down and fix a scene where there isn’t actually a lot happening. Few directors can do this. The best recent example of such quality directing would be Steve McQueen in Hunger when he sets a camera on Fassbender and the priest for twenty minutes and lets the dialogue unfurl. There’s no reliance on providing constant stimulation to the viewer and changing frame every two seconds to maintain engagement. Having the confidence to do this is rare and not only does Godard have faith in his actors, he trusts his viewer. As a result, his movies play out to their conclusion with pretty much all violence and nudity left to the imagination – and the end result is actually all the more satisfying for it.

It’s the simplicity of the movie though which provides the most satisfaction. Taking a familiar concept such as the hardboiled detective story and then setting it against an innate threat which is actually probably more pertinent in the current day and age than it was in the sixties. The nacent threat is a technocratic society where lives are controlled by machines and the people are systematically conditioned in semantics (see:  modern PR, marketing, media or as it’s sometimes known, propaganda).

One of my favourite concepts:  The bible prevalent in every hotel room scene, in what is a lovely twist is actually a reguarly updated dictionary where words are removed and made obsolete whilst more appropriate words are freshly added. This builds on one of the most frightening parts of the movie: In attempting to control the limits of thought, the manipulation of language is perhaps the most foundational tool of all, for an individual can only think in the vocabulary available to them. In colonial societies the effect of this has been devastating. By suppressing language you suppress culture and identity. I have wrote about this previously, Alphaville takes this concept to its extreme.

In what is an inverse allusion to Camus’ The Outsider, the idea is to create a logical society free from emotion. This is actually very much pertinent to the kind of secular and self-defined rationalist society desired by many atheists and humanists these days. In reducing everything to scientific lines, we’re left with a Christian society sans God, ran on terrifying technocratic lines for big business and profit. Although the great tragedy is that no-one will actually know what money is for, as we got rid of all abstractions: poetry, art, music along with irrelevant distractions like kindess, affection, love, friendship in the process. Fortunately, as the movie helpfully explains, there is no reason to ask “why” we should or should not have such things, just say “because.”

The villain of the piece: the machine if you wish to rationalise, is actually a light and a fan with an eery low pitched croak. If you wish to be more abstract and upto date, you can imagine it’s the eyestalk of a French speaking Dalek. However, to look at this rationally or abstractly actually does a disservice to what manages to be massively unnerving. Presenting   a quasi-ominiponent menace controlling everyones thoughts and aspirations in a fashion that everyone can strongly relate to makes it horrific and a brilliant piece of film-making. Tremendously done.


Corbyn’s Demise

Whilst I would describe myself as left-wing and as someone who is not by nature a jingoistic hawk. By which I mean, I don’t generally go around advocating war as a solution to all problems, I wouldn’t describe myself as a pacifist either. I generally advocate reasonable force.

Corbyn’s ideological failure on foreign policy has cost Labour the 2020 election. It’s as simple as that. There is a complete failure to recognise the wider public mood and manage it accordingly. Am I suggesting that Labour should blindly follow the emotional and febrile mood of the public in the wake of the Paris attacks? Not at all. I’m suggesting that through dismissing military action on a purely ideological and ostensibly principled standpoint he has put himself into a trap he will not be able to escape from. He has failed to recognise the right wing and conservative (with a small c) tendencies of many long-time Labour voters and the wider English public who constitute the electorate when it comes to matters of patriotism and nationalism, which within the British psyche is very much entwined with militarism and British exceptionalism. A gruesome hangover from the days of Empire and cololonialism.

He has not offered a serious and realistic alternative. Wanting world peace is a lovely sentiment, I’m sure everyone would agree. However IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Al-Qaeda/The Nusra Front are not likely to forget our previous forays into the Middle-East in a hurry, and there is little chance they will lay their guns down willingly anytime soon. It is clear that conflict resolution is required, and to what extent Britain should involve itself is legitimately up for debate. That Britain has been for so long an antagonist in the imposition of the many conflicts of the Middle-East, it is a legitimate concern of many that having no part in the conflict resolution will nonetheless leave Britain open to attacks, regardless. From a military and practical standpoint, I don’t advocate aerial bombardment. Especially on built up civilian areas. I believe it is completely reckless and counter-productive. I would be open to suggestion on a strategic ground offensive, and attacks against economic targets, along with exerting military and political pressure on those who fund the IS insurgency in order to completely isolate them in both Iraq and Syria. No funding, no war. I think we can imagine why this strategy is unlikely to occur anytime soon though.

The public demand for aerial bombardment suits the Tories. It is exactly the kind of PR driven tokenism that is to be expected from this government. Simply appearing to be doing something, regardless of the fact that it will be largely ineffective and will drag on for a long, long time suits them. When they inevitably get their way in order to send over the RAF, they will thrive on driving home a message of how “They are protectors of the realm, Labour threaten national security” and the rest of their trite nonsense. Dragging the political debate back to the realms of the lowest common denominator with the us against them, xenophobic, “Immigrants threaten our way of life” nonsense all the way through the EU referendum, where we can expect something to the effect of, “We have found in the past few months when Europe has come together (in hatred of Islam to annihilate them at home and in the Middle-East) we are better together.” like a bad IndyRef tribute act, should be  enough to see the Conservatives through the next election and hammer the final nails into Britain’s coffin once and for all.

Parisian Tragedy

The attack in France is so sad. Although such awful instances have happened before in other major cities across the years, Madrid, London, New York, Dublin and so on, there is something particularly awful about this Parisian tragedy. I imagine only an attack on Rome would be quite so equally poignant and symbolic, and would be likely to resonate quite so deeply with European citizens. 

I mention this, as Paris, like Rome is a place you associate with great beauty, culture, art. A place that upon mere mention has a soul stirring profundity and will reconcile in the mind many great romantic connotations, and above all, all that is quite so beautiful about Europe itself. A place that contains much of France’s great cultural heritage, and the heritage of many around the world in far diverse places. Although I cannot say if the attackers had an appreciation for such symbolism in their planning, or they perhaps just considered Paris simply a soft-target, it has resonated with me deeply.

My thoughts and prayers are with the French people and all others who may be affected directly and indirectly.