Second Time Around

Alphaville / Blade Runner
These two films practically define the fascinating cross-genre cross-breed “tech noir” — films noir incorporating a bleak view of technology as well as people. Both films mingle science-fictional speculation with heroes modeled after the trench-coated detective of the 1940s. Eddie Constantine (Alphaville's Lemmy Caution) and Harrison Ford (Blade Runner's Rick Deckard) both model variations of that trench coat. The slablike Constantine is more of a tough guy than the depressed Ford, but more gallant too. He only slaps women around. Deckard shoots them — in the back (when they're androids).

This latent misogyny is just one way the crime genre is freshly revealed by the switch to sci-fi. Of course Alphaville's science-fictionality is a matter of assertion; famously, Jean-Luc Godard shot the whole picture in contemporary (1964) Paris, making what is now obsolete technology (enormous IBM computers, bare light bulbs, a fan) forever futuristic by constructing a B-movie sci-fi plot in front of it. Intermingled is Godard's patented bull-session philosophizing. Conversely, in 1982, Blade Runner's writers teased a B-movie plot out of Philip K. Dick's philosophical novel and then director Ridley Scott filmed it in and around one of the densest, most beautifully designed future-worlds ever imaged for film. Yet, point for point, Alphaville holds its own: It's as beautifully shot (in black-and-white, by Raoul Coutard) as Blade Runner's misty color work by Jordan Cronenweth. The scores, by Vangelis (Blade Runner) and Paul Misraki (Alphaville), contribute much to each film's melancholy romanticism. Both films, finally, depend for their ultimate impact on their handling of one of science fiction's most venerable conceits — the attempted rescue of the mad scientist's beautiful daughter (or, in the case of Blade Runner, his “niece”) — against the venerable sci-fi landscape of a deprived, dehumanized future.

— Gregg Rickman

Blade Runner screens Saturday, Feb. 8, at 1, 5:15, and 9:20 p.m., and Alphaville at 3:20 and 7:30 p.m., at the Castro, Castro & Market. Tickets are $6.50. Call 621-6120.

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