John Thomas on Alphaville

This is just an except on Alphaville(1965) that i thought was interesting. I found it while looking at articles to analyse for my ‘criticising the critics’ section. I decided not to analyse this article however in the future i may well do.

‘Chief among the images that create the texture of this film is a flashing light. It opens the film with an hypnotic flicker, its intensity vaguely unsettling. It reappears as a car’s headlight, then becomes the car’s blinker signalling a left turn. Later on it’s a light bulb swinging back and forth, the flashgun of Caution’s miniature camera, the flicker of fluorescent ceiling lights, the wink of neon signs. To try to establish any “meaning” for this symbol would, I think, be pointless. The flashing light is as characteristic of modern civilization as anything else you might name, and particularly appropriate to Alphaville, where direct sunlight is rarely seen. I cannot stress too much that what is important is that the image is there, and is its own justification. This light is in fact the central visual theme of Alphaville. In the opening five minutes there is little else. The film begins with the flashing light, then the headlight of a car. We see a train cross a bridge at night, its lighted windows staring blankly back at us. Then we are on a superhighway, the lamp standards rushing past and appearing to vibrate because of the motion of the car. We see Caution’s car signalling for a left turn with its blinker, parking finally in front of the hotel. Caution flicks his Zippo lighter, half-illuminating his face with its dancing flame. He gets out of the car and the camera watches him through a series of glass panels, rapidly panning to follow him into the hotel lobby and in the process capturing the reflection of myriads of lights which flash across and fracture the image. After a brief stop at the hotel desk, Caution steps into the elevator and again the camera peers at him through glass. As the elevator ascends and Caution lights his Zippo, a brilliant pattern of reflected light plays vertically across the image. These first few minutes are among the most gripping in the film, not because anything happens, but because these particular images have been arranged in this particular way. In this sequence the whole substance and strategy of Alphaville stand revealed. These patterns of flickering light are the movie; what else in it is of greater importance?’ (1)

 

(1). John Thomas ‘A Review of Alphaville’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Autumn, 1966), pp. 48-51 p. 49.

Published by

A.R. Duckworth

South Yorkshire England

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