If you’re in the enviable position of checking out Jean-Luc Godard’s body of work for the first time, his sci-fi opus “Alphaville” will stand out as a bit of a curiosity. The film is a lean, bizarro riff on familiar noir tropes and is infused with a punk-y dystopian edge, as well as Godard’s love of the perverse and the postmodern. It’s miles away from both the amoral romanticism of his early work (“Breathless,” “A Woman is a Woman”) as well as his more socially minded mid-career pictures which occasionally resemble incendiary political slideshows with included voiceover (“Weekend,” with its infamous ten-minute tracking shot, comes to mind, as does “Made in U.S.A.”).
Remakes of Godard’s work are a dicey proposition: his signature style is so maddeningly distinct that a reimagining sounds unnecessary (not many people even remember the Richard Gere-starring remake of “Breathless,” except for Quentin Tarantino, who counts the film among his favorites). And yet now, some brave soul has taken on the Herculean task of refashioning Godard for modern audiences. That’s right: seasoned cinematographer Frank Byers is set to helm a remake of “Alphaville” that will allegedly update the film’s themes of corruption and intrigue for the present day.
“Alphaville” is about a world-weary, trenchcoat-wearing, Ford Mustang-driving secret agent named Lemmy Caution sent to the bombed-out, permanently nocturnal dystopia of Alphaville to capture and/or kill a mad doctor and destroy his most sinister recent creation: a sentient computer system that serves to abolish humanity’s will to think, love and create. The remake’s script is currently being penned by “Empire” writer/director Franc Reyes, and according to The Wrap, it focuses on a “fresh take on the story that aims to reflect what’s happening in today’s political climate.”
While we’re generally wary of remakes, it’s important to remember that “Alphaville” is a formal experiment more than a traditional “film” and as such might lend itself freely to a sort of high-minded re-interpretation. It would be a shame to see the film’s political motifs hammered home with a lack of subtlety —although given the current turmoil in France, Ferguson and beyond, one can’t fault the filmmakers for throwing subtlety out the window. And yet the creative cachet is promising: while nothing on Byer’s IMDB roster screams “auteur” or even “genius”, he is the man responsible for the sinister, oak-tree laden nightmare zone that is the visual world of “Twin Peaks.” The involvement of Reyes, who collaborated with Byers on his 2007 film “Illegal Tender,” is another curious factor, although more plot-based and cast details are being kept under wraps for now. Studiocanal will release the film in conjunction with Byers’s own Ville Productions company.
In other “Alphaville”-related news, Seed&Spark’s Bright Ideas magazine will be screening a 50th anniversary remix of the film at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. What’s more is that the magazine is calling upon today’s young screenwriters to write new dialogue for the film. The remix stars Caitlin Fitzgerald of “Masters of Sex” and Brendan Kelleher of “Starship Icarus,” and will be the first film production released under the magazine’s banner. When asked about the genesis of the idea, Bright Eyes editor and director of the “Alphaville” remix had this to say (via Indiewire):
Beginning with our first issue, we’ve made it part of our mission to celebrate—and reimagine—some of our favorite films turning 50 to keep the present of independent cinema connected to the past. Last year we designed a new poster for “Dr. Strangelove”and wild-posted it around San Francisco. This year we’ve conceived a feminist inversion of a scene from Godard’s 1965 surrealist sci-fi experiment, “Alphaville.” And we’re thrilled to be premiering it as part of the Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmakers’ Showcase at Slamdance.
The notion of remixing certain films is certainly an interesting prospect. One can’t help but think of the infamous re-jiggering of the original “Star Wars” films to include new, spruced-up special effects and shameless digital tinkering, but something tells me the aim of the folks over at Bright Ideas is a little higher. Godard’s film is above all an experiment. And while that doesn’t change the fact that some classic films simply should not be touched, the notion of re-appropriating the film’s themes of alienation, danger and freedom and giving them a fresh spin is certainly intriguing. It’s a way of re-imagining the classic films of yesteryear, and the democratization of the process —allowing whomever pleases to write dialogue for a film that is considered by many to be a classic in the director’s canon— is without question a radical move.
Following the premiere, the “Alphaville” remix —featuring the winning subtitles— will be available for free online streaming on the Bright Eyes website.