Cultural Techniques in Godards Alphaville

Sarah Stanley 

Galloway concludes The Interface Effect by stating, “We do not yet have a critical or poetic language in which to represent the control society”. Yet literary and cinematic works that investigate control proliferated during the Cold War, including Godard’s film Alphaville that contains intensive poetic and critical perspectives on the effects of computerized networks and its surveillence capabilities. If the brain is a screen, as Deleuze asserts, then how to consider an increasingly complex set of interfaces defined by signaling systems that culminate in the computer? In Alphaville, the transparency of modernist glass architecture and urban signaling systems become the signiture of an emerging computer interface, a nervous system that blends human and machine. The Alpha 60, the mainframe computer that controls all technical and communication systems, was based on actual mainframes put into operation to manage Cold War weapons and early warning systems. Glass architecture is coincidently used for the most recent NSA complexes with an infrastructure comprised mostly of computer servers. Godard’s choice of science fiction facilitates these investigations into Cold War aggressions transposed onto the capitalist city and its architecture. For instance, his use of Nonstop City may have been a literary entry point to the development of MOLS (Manned Orbital Laboratories) first announced in 1963, large spacecrafts for intelligence gathering, command and control of military operations from outer space. MOLs never flew, outpaced by a new generation of satellites capable of many of the proposed functions. During this same time period, a series of new NSA facilities were built throughout Africa, Europe and the Middle East, costing billions of dollars. Even back then, the NSA was unable to cope with the massiveness of the raw data collected, partly as a result of better computer storage and retrieval systems. Architecture becomes the interface through which the film camera can trail the detective’s efforts to investigate Alphaville through the glass, darkly.


I am an art and media resarch scholar affiliated with Humboldt U. I have been developing this research into Interface, Modern Architecture and Cinema for the past year, through presentations at NECS, European Network for Cinema and Media Studies, and will submit it shortly for publication as a 20-page research paper in a German media journal. This is part of a larger scholarly research project that draws upon German media theory (Kittler’s Optical Media, Flusser et al) in order to discuss transit between technique and cultural programs, especially film and photography.