Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Alphaville 1965

Alphaville 1965 Driving his Ford Galaxie, Lemmie Caution leaves the Outer Countries and passes through Inter-sidereal space to Alphaville, the Capital of Pain. It is seventeen minutes past midnight, he is alone, a revolver rests in the glove compartment of his car. Under the assumed identity of Ivor Johnson, reporter for Figaro-Pravda, Lenny has a mission to kidnap or assassinate Professor Von Braun, architect of the totalitarian city which is controlled by his creation, Alpha 60, whose presence pervades this capital of a distant Galaxy.
So begins Jean Luc-Godard’s stylish but enigmatic futuristic thriller ‘Alphaville’, filmed without sets on the streets of Paris, creating an unearthly but real landscape.

Glass walled buildings, labyrinthine corridors, pools of light in the blackness turn a familiar Paris into a menacing, yet stylish Alphaville, contrasting with the film noir atmosphere of scenes filmed in seedy hotels and dark streets. ‘Alphaville’ contains many visual references to varied sources from pulp fiction and comics, to B movies, serials, cartoons and film classics.

Caution himself is a character created by British author Peter Chaney in a series of pulp thrillers which were themselves translated into a series of French B movies starring Eddie Constantine, an American who went to live in Paris, became a night club star, then popularised the tough Lemmy Caution in movies.
The sinister Alpha 60’s electronic surveillance pervades the city in an Orwellian manner. For twenty years it has been manipulating the Metropolis, suppressing emotions and instinct in its citizens. Its aim is the death of emotion, with no poetry, no awareness of past or future.

Alphaville 1965 A Bible/Dictionary is owned by every inhabitant of Alphaville and new editions are distributed daily. In it, more and more words become forbidden, words such as redbreast, autumn light, conscience, tears, tenderness – all cease to exist. The inhabitants of the Outer Countries: Nueva York, Tokyorama, Florence, don’t wish this mechanical monstrosity to infest their own Galaxy and have sent in agents on what amounts to a suicide mission. Caution himself is uncompromisingly tough and treats violence in an almost casual way, shooting first and not worrying about the consequences. At one point he knocks down a heavy and drives a car over his head.

Brainwashing has reduced the inhabitants to electronic slaves; robots to do the bidding of the machine whose computer centres are everywhere. The people move about like somnambulists, topped up with tranquilisers which are provided free in every room. They talk ritualistically. If you say ‘Hello,’ they invariably reply, “Very well, thank you, please.” Caution is escorted to his hotel room by a girl devoid of emotion, a Seductress, Third Class, tattooed with a number on her back.

She offers herself to him and he rejects her, resulting in a cop bursting into his room demanding to know why he refuses the girl. Lemmy dodges as the cop takes a swing at him and they begin to fight. The cop manages to smash his fist through two glass walls and a mirror, gets himself ducked into a bath with a towel over his head, throws himself through two more glass walls and, as Lemmy grabs his gun from the bedroom, is shot.

Unruffled, Lemmy shrugs his shoulders. As a visitor, Lemmy is appointed a guide, Natasha Von Braun (Anna Karina), a Programmer, Second Class, who is Professor Von Braun’s daughter. He arranges to meet her later that evening, setting out to track down the agents who had set out before him – Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy and Henri Dickson. They have all disappeared. He tracks Dickson down to the Red Star Hotel, a pokey little place where he is propositioned by a Seductress. When Dickson, old, unshaven, down-and-out, arrives, Caution pays his rent money, obtains his key and is curious when the hotel keeper demands to know when Dickson will commit suicide – he explains to Caution that suicide is common in Alphaville to those who can’t adapt. Dickson reports the death of Dick Tracy and describes Alpha 60 as a giant computer, like the ones they used to have in Nueva York, but a hundred and fifty light years stronger.
“Here at Alphaville their ideal is…a pure technology…an entirely technical society…like those of ants and termites! In Alphaville there are no artists, novelists, musicians, painters.”

When the 70-year-old Dickson begins to fondle a 20-year-old Seductress and goes into convulsions, he gives Caution a message before he dies: “Lemmy…conscience…conscience…destroy…make Alpha 60…destroy itself…tenderness…save those who weep.” Dickson has left Lemmy a book of poems, Eluard’s ‘The Capital of Pain.’ He sets off to pick up Natasha who is listening to Alpha 60 give a lecture. He takes her away. They are seemingly pursued by the voice of the machine, its lecture continuing. She takes him along to an execution inside a swimming pool. Lines of men are herded by soldiers with machine guns onto a diving board. As each falls in, girls armed with knives dive in and stab the men to death. He’s told that generally 50 men to every woman are executed. “But what have they done?” he asks. “They behaved illogically,” he is told.

One man is killed because he wept when his wife died. As the condemned man steps forward he says, “Listen to me, you normals. We see the truth that you no longer see. This truth is, that there is nothing true in man except love and faith, courage and tenderness, generosity and sacrifice: everything else is but the artifice created by the progress of your own blind ignorance.” Lemmy spots Professor Von Braun and tries to speak to him, but is beaten up by his bodyguards. Natasha sees him lying unconscious. A man asks, “You’re not crying, are you?” “No…because it is not allowed,” she answers, but tears fall slowly down her cheeks. Lemmy is taken and interrogated by Alpha 60 . . . . . .

Alphaville 1965 Alpha 60: “You have come from the Outerlands. What did you feel as you passed through Galactic space?”
Lemmy: “The silence of infinite space…appalled me.”
Alpha 60: “What is the privilege of death?”
Lemmy: “To die no longer.”
Alpha 60: “What transforms the night into day?”
Lemmy: “Poetry.”
Alpha 60: “What is your religion?”
Lemmy: “I believe in the immediate inspiration of my conscience.”
As the interrogation continues, Alpha 60 cannot understand him.
“You’re hiding certain things, although I don’t yet know what they are,”
he says, so for the time being he will allow Lemmy to go free.
Alphaville 1965

After various adventures Lemmy kills the Professor and destroys Alpha 60 by reading it the poetry of Eluard. As Alphaville begins to break down he drives out of the city with Natasha. “Don’t turn around,” he tells her as they enter Inter-sidereal space. It’s a scene immediately similar to that of Lot and his wife fleeing from Sodom or Orpheus fleeing from the Underworld with Eurydice.

Many years later, the closing scene in ‘Blade Runner’ echoed it. He looks at her strangely and she knows he expects her to say something in particular. She asks what it is. “I don’t know what to say. At least I don’t know the words, I was never taught them. Please help me,” she pleads.
Lemmy answers, “Impossible, Princess. You’ve got to manage by yourself and only then will you be saved. If you can’t then you are as lost as the dead in Alphaville.” She says, “I…Love…you…I love you.”

Jean Luc Godard wrote the script, which he’d originally called ‘Tarzan Versus IBM,’ and initially called Professor Von Braun, Professor Leonardo Da Vinci and Lemmy’s other name was Jack Smith, not Ivor Johnson.
Richard Roud, who penned the introduction to Godard’s published screenplay, wrote:“For Godard, the circle represents evil: a man must go straight ahead, says the condemned man on the diving board. So everything in Alphaville that represents the tyranny of the computers is circular. “Lemmy’s hotel suite is built in circular form; the staircases in the Government buildings are spiral; even the city itself is, like Paris, circular, and to get from one place to another one must take a circular route. The corridors may be straight, but one always ends up where one started. And of course the computers move in circles.
Alphaville 1965
Time, says Alpha 60, is an endless circle. Lemmy, however, maintains that all one has to do is to go straight ahead towards everything one loves, straight ahead; when one arrives at the goal, one realises that one has nevertheless come full circle.”

The atmosphere is a mixture of film noir, 50s sci-fi movies like ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and French New Wave, with a music score penned by an American, Paul Misraki, aiming at a 1930s style soundtrack, with the strange unsettling voice of Alpha 60. It is actually the sound of a human voice, but that of a man whose vocal chords were shot away in the war and who trained himself to speak from the diaphragm. The film also has a retro-future feel and, with the sequences filmed mainly at night, it seems that the inhabitants live in darkness and the light finally comes only after Alpha 60 has been destroyed.

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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