Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
October 25, 1965
Alphaville released in NY

"Science fiction without special effects" is how critic Andrew Sarris described Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, which opened in New York on October 25, 1965. Made during Godard's wildly creative early-to-mid-'60s period, after A Married Woman and before Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville is a sci-fi/detective movie mash-up, set on another planet that looks quite a bit like 1960s Paris. In a story about both depersonalization and mythmaking, Godard sent his detective Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) though an urban landscape that was both beautifully hip and also inflected with the seeds of alienation that the International Style of modern architecture would come to represent. But, most of all, Alphaville is one of Godard's most enjoyable philosophical goofs. Wrote Sarris, "There is much talk of societies in other galaxies, but their only manifestation is the Ford Galaxy that Eddie Constantine's Lemmy Caution (a low-rent French version of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe) moves about in. Most of Alphaville is nocturnal or claustrophobically indoors. Yet there is an exhilarating release in many of the images and camera movements because of Godard's uncanny ability to evoke privileged moments from many movies of the past."


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

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December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

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