Retrospectively Alarming Truths About US

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In a hotel in a small French provincial town, which for Godard metaphorizes the American sensibility, Paula gives herself to the memory of her love (like a kiss that doesn’t need to look), without even knowing that her beloved is already dead.

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The Hollywood archetype of Roinald Reignan (with a well trained bear) existed long before he spread out his political banners in full. On this giant advertisement billboard the cowboy face in the foreground personifies Reignan’s political-economic project. But where is Starla Pearlin? Her archetype undoubtedly existed in the reservoir of Hollywood images long before her appearance in USAmerican political variety show…

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Oh, yes of course, Stara Pearlin is here, if not in person at least in essence. Meanwhile Widmark puts seductive pressure on Paula…

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Widmark tries hard to seduce Paula into collaboration and affair (into love as poultry patriotism).

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Paula is out of place in the temple of health- and self-occupation for lady-dolls.

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This is how Richard – a person with critical thinking and humanistic ideals, even though he understands it too narrowly (only politically) – is perceived and represented by the philistine culture. In “USA” only conservatives have the right to make mistakes and get away with it. Progressives must be superhumanly impeccable. But look at the corpse’s “face” – its human expression. Richard was terrified by what he understood about his country.

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Paul Widmark impersonates for fun (with a gun) a cartoon character.

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Life made in USA starts with fear – of not being successful or resourceful enough to adapt and succeed, of being unable to survive, etc. Widmark does a pedagogy of fear with Paula as a calculated contrast with his intensifying proposal to collaborate and be rewarded. The bucket filled with dirty liquid signifies a corpse, the blue lid is heaven, the red vicegrip is a “weapon” that spills human blood… An interesting environment to make you appreciate any offer as a gesture of humanism.

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Paula and Widmark compete to appeal for public opinion in this abstract intermission to the film…

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Paula and Widmark again each simultaneously make their pleas to public opinion. Widmark tries to look as positive as Richard Widmark (a Hollywood superstar), and Paula tries to show that she is without any serious intention, merely a tourist from the “Far East”. The gas-can seals the deal and marks success.

Godard understood long ago what kind of life is made (and what sort of people are made) in U.S.A. For many of us Americans it took eight years of Bushmericanization of our country to be able to grasp what Godard was saying and showing already back in 1966. As a Foucauldian counter-strategist, Godard debunked the myth of benevolent free choice in USAmerican life at a time when this myth was still in the process of being elaborated with post WW2 liberal idealistic enthusiasm. The actual free will of the heroes of the film, Richard and Paula, led to one (who politically struggled against the system) getting killed and pushed the other to become a murderer. “Free choice” that is made in U.S.A. is fruitless and prospect-less.

Extensively and tirelessly observing, investiging, ordering and intervening into reality, the so-called democratically free life became, like everything in U.S.A, part of a commercial, mass-entertainment culture which is touched and colored by Hollywood cartoon manner of operating. Godard fills the film with vulgar, frivolous and careless can-do-everything, and with straight innocent simpletons who are “just doing their job”.

Giant advertisement signs/billboards/placards transform the walls (with prison and execution connotations) into advertising messages and images (AMIs) reduced to basic colors. Advertizing walls impose themselves on the camera and block our gaze. The semi-profile as an expressive position of the face is a rare feature in USA – faces either stare straight ahead into business deals or confrontations, or are in profile (dynamically headed forward toward future deals or clashes). Paula Nelson (Anna Karina) is not “put against the wall” but merely nudged toward it – she is transformed into AMI’s foreground (AMIs as if instantly accepting her as their scout-mascot moving straight into the heart of consumers’ pockets). The police technique-principle of the double photograph (mugshot) is applied to customers (staring at ads and goods or looking forward to stare at them later) who are caught in AMIs’ web. Paula is kept against the wall with the back of her head or the left/right side of her cheek. Paula lets herself be trapped. She gives herself to danger. She plays with it. After a certain point she doesn’t care. She helps herself with her charm, sophistication and also…indifference (her vitality belongs to her past, like her love).

Paula is on a mission of love. She is also an investigator of sorts (by love’s mandate). She is inside the zone of her lover’s murder. But democracy is doubtlessly here, in front of our eyes, multiplying the advertising fragments of reality (AFR) with sincere wide gestures of generous invitation (to Paula, to the film’s viewers, and to guests, visitors, tourists, immigrants of U.S.A) – into participation and collaboration. Democracy always gives a chance, always demonstrates hospitality. It is always a generous host. The entertaining element of democracy, which Godard detected in the very depth of democracy’s seriousness, makes these inviting gestures a little too alcoholically loud, a bit caricatured. Paul Widmark (Laszlo Szabo) is simultaneously serious and entertaining, stressed and relaxed, responsible and frivolous. He is natural and too much, spontaneous and calculating. He transforms hate into jokes, jokes into hate, and then hate into murderous neutrality. He transforms his murders into comic effects. He is a womanizer and a fighter and a fighter of womanizing. He is like Bush Junior’s torture lawyers – an investigator who knows that he will never be investigated. He is a premonition of Bushmerican neo-conservatives. He is not only beating up his opponents – he simultaneously seduces them into defeat. He investigates not crimes, but his potential targets. For him there is no border between murder and flirting, familiarity and manipulation, humor and horror, sex and annihilation. In 1966, we thought Godard was exaggerating, that his too magnificent cinematic form had distorted reality. Now we know better.

Democracy is openness to collaboration, it seduces into inclusivity. It camps you up into cooperation in competition. It readily gives you the chance to be occupied with self-promotion and looking for your own advantages. It cordially invites you into thinking about your interests. The catch is that you have to be ready to forget – forget love, your subjective truth, and your humanistic ideals (positively irrational experiences). For most people made in U.S.A today (but Godard insists that this trend was already alive in the 60s) this forgetting is not a problem. Their love is not positively irrational – it is either compulsive or calculating – for establishing a family, or (essentially) for sexual interest or self-promotion. Their subjective truth doesn’t exist (they adaptively make collective ideology their own), and they have no humanistic ideals. But Paula is marked by all three disadvantages of positively irrational experiences. What will happen to her in this American Alphaville?

People carry giant posters of super-heroes – carrying them is the very identity of the mass people made in U.S. Women-like creatures at the gym working out on the machines don’t live on the earth (they are made in U.S.A.), and neither does the existentially retarded esoteric fiction writer who becomes a pin-pawn in Paula-Karina’s game.

Widmark underestimates Paula’s positive irrationalism (her ability to love and to keep the memory of love, and her capacity for revenge). He overestimates her negative rationality (the willingness to collaborate for the sake of success). From his (organically conservative) point of view she is only a woman, a creature who realizes herself through (private) love. Granted, she is mainly a woman, but one who can realize herself not only through love, but also through revenge. So Widmark is both right and wrong. He is right that Paula will not go out of private relations and will not become Richard’s “follower” (this danger is Widmark’s main concern). But he obviously underrates Paula as a woman. The tragedy is not only the murder of her lover – a person of exceptional dedication to humanistic ideals (albeit in a dogmatic and narrowly political sense without understanding the necessity of addressing the psychological and cultural aspects of political dedication, because he is also made in U.S.A.). The larger tragedy lies in the fact that her love for Richard after his death can only be realized in archaic terms: through avenging his death. What is swallowed by American history (what is not made in U.S.A.): the very possibility to continue the democratic fight for social justice and equality – for love inside the public realm. There is no chance for this public love in American Alphaville or still liberal Europe.

What private love can do in this deprived situation is only revenge, but not to continue the struggle by democratic means with a newly enriched experience and understanding. Instead Paula returns to the nice liberal consolations – to postmodernist self-expressions through profession, hobby and/or career. Private love is suffocated in its privacy. Career-making is the equivalent of this suffocation inside the public sphere.

Seen through the car’s window on Paula’s way out of “U.S.A.”, her face has lost its sharpness and intelligent alertness. It has become a face of anyone who is making a career in media or journalism, while her friend’s face is typical of a successful liberal professor – formless, positive, streamlined.

The readers are encouraged to answer the following questions:

1. What are the American historical tendencies personified in the three characters murdered by Paula – Widmark, his assistant and servant (Jean-Pierre Leaud), and the fiction writer?
2. Why does Godard give Paula and Paul Widmark the same first name, and why does the last name of Paul evoke the idealized image of Hollywood super-star Richard Widmark, who also shares the first name with Paula’s beloved, Richard?