signs taken for wonders

July 26, 2007 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment


Would you look at the mug on that guy? Godard apparently wanted, originally, to call this film Tarzan versus IBM. And that gives you some idea of the clash between noir machismo and totalitarian structures staged by the film, the clash between the logic driven hegemony of a god-like super computer called Alpha 60, and Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) who has love, poetry, a camera, and a few semantic tricks up his sleeve, despite the concrete-implacable face.

Semantics is of enormous concern to the film. Alpha 60 spreads its gospel through so many burning halogen bushes: the truth is the word as expressed by logical equations. Humans in Alphaville are taught to substitute “because” for “why”. And to dispense with irrational emotions, especially those that might cause one to cry–a crime punishable by death.

Lemmy Caution is an outsider in Alphaville, there on the pretense of reporting for FigaroPravda (a nice dialectical synthesis of the conservative French daily and the Soviet paper). The conjoint name echoes the film’s Orwellian concern about ever fewer words. Alpha 60 criminalizes certain expressions. Lemmy teaches Natascha Von Braun (Anna Karina) that there is a truth in certain words not reducible to equations, like “love.” And in fact Alpha 60 appears to be incapacitated by some lines from Borges‘ poetry.

What I find interesting (the film is engrossing and eerily hypnotic throughout) is Godard making a film about semantic structures the same year that Althusser‘s monumental For Marx is published. Raccoon tells me Godard would go on to increasingly identify himself as a Marxist. I read Alphaville as a critique of the sign and of the structures that have been codified by reductive semantic applications–think literal interpretations of the bible, so-called vulgar Marxism, or the free-market god of caplitalist exploitation. Godard would caution our triumphalisms.

There are better things to be found beyond the lights. We are, it would seem, near the end of Alpha, but far from Omega–somewhere approaching Marx‘s beginning of history. Part of the point is we ain’t there yet.

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Entry filed under: Alphaville, Criterion Collection, Film, french new-wave, Godard, movie, thurs afternoon.

A Bit from the Debate she went ahead and bought it

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