Authorship: Individuals and Universals
by evanwight on November 10, 2017 - 12:46pm
Dr. Marisha Caswell
November 10, 2017
Blog Post 1
The question of authorship is particularly important in this unit. We have discussed in class the importance of Rhymes for Young Ghouls as a story told from an Aboriginal voice, and though Tarantino isn’t Jewish, the fact that so many characters in Inglorious Basterds are Jewish is important. In Inglorious Basterds, the Jewish character’s ethnicity draws attention to the personal aspects of the war instead of the political, focusing on revenge instead of victory or strategy. So in these two films, Jewishness matters and Indigenousness matters. This is why The Battle of Algiers stands as a film where the relationship between ethnicity and authorship seem to be much more complicated.
In The Battle of Algiers, you have, like in the previous two films, an oppressed party, and like the previous two films, the oppressed party takes radical measures to attain justice. However, the question of morality is much more important in The Battle of Algiers than it is in Inglourious Basterds or Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Partially this is because the crimes of the oppressed party are outweighed by the crimes of the oppressor. Breaking into a residential school and stealing the safe money is fairly petty considering the injustice of the residential school system. And if we’re talking about Hitler and Nazis, nothing really compares. In The Battle of Algiers, the crimes of the FLN and the French military are relatively equal in terms of moral ambiguity.
The issue of ethnicity and authorship play an important role in this distinction. First of all, the director of the film is not Algerian or French, but Italian. While Tarantino isn’t Jewish, his sympathies are clearly with the allies, but with Gillo Pontecorvo it’s hard to tell where his sympathies are. His film is balanced enough that it should be questioned whether he is acting as an impartial third party or an Algerian sympathizer. If it is the former, then authorship doesn’t matter at all. If your aim is to create an impartial, objective account of history the question of authorship is only important when it relates to how impartial and objective that author can be. But I don’t believe Pontecorvo is entirely impartial, balanced as he is. His sympathies are clearly with the Algerians, if for no other reason than we see the final victory of the Algerians at the end of the film. We then may ask what is the basis for his sympathy. I’m reminded of Jean Genet’s essay when he claims to support the Palestinians because he loves them from spending so much time with them. This may be true of Pontecorvo, but if it is, it is not displayed in the film to the same degree as it is in Jean Genet’s essay.
So how can Pontecorvo speak for the Algerian people? What is his basis of sympathy?
Clearly, it must be that the Battle of Algiers is not just about Algerians. The struggle of the FLN must represent a larger struggle that non-Algerians can relate to. In the Battle of Algiers, the FLN’s struggle represents the struggle against colonialism. This allows Pontecorvo to make a universal claim about the nature of imperialism. It’s important, then, that he is not Algerian, since he is speaking of something greater than any particular nation.