Too Soon to be History and Too Late to be Propaganda
by knizzle on February 28, 2015 - 10:18pm
Films provide an entertaining medium from which the audience may draw relevant lessons. Since viewing October and The Battle of Algiers, I have come to question the intention of these movies as they were produced with the clear intent of building upon an explicit national identity. As the films were made shortly after the events they depict, while they are still metaphorically fresh in the memory of the masses, their effects are certainly magnified. When Russia was arguably still mounting the foundations of its communist government a film supporting the revolution hits the silver screen, or when the political turmoil in Algiers begins to settle as the country achieves independent sovereignty a motion picture is already recounting the story, it is difficult to measure the intentions of the film beyond entertainment.
The depth of themes in these films speaks directly to the profound conflicts they observe. The Russian revolution takes the form of a silent film with a grand sound track stirring emotions of triumph. The segments of the film are broken up by prompts voicing the people in the film. As the film has been subject to translation and censorship, there is no doubt that certain artistic and cultural subtleties have been lost. Tasked with highlighting dialectical materialism, the film accomplishes the chore with a political zeal only a black and white visual experience could deliver. Presented in a structure emulating the ideology expressive of the revolution, Eisenstein presents a sequence of thesis and antithesis to communicate the societal transformations taking place. For the soviet Russian audience at the time, this strengthened their shared sense of national identity while for today’s viewers this could prove to be yet another version of the revolutionary history.
While the Russian revolution was grounded in societal change, the Algerian War was rooted in socio-political controversy. With little knowledge pertaining to Algerian history and their struggle for independence, this colony’s struggle for liberation offered great insight into the nature of the conflict. Also presented in a black and white adaptation, the news reel style compliments the narrative depicted in the movie. Pitting the French military against the guerilla forces of Algeria, there are no heroic illusions of character but rather a sense of patriotic altruism on the part of the Algerians who aim to strike at the infrastructure of French government. Terrorism is a practice associated with both groups, though torture tactics are only employed by the French as they consider it to be a means to an end. For them this strictly a military issue while the Algerian view the conflict as an opportunity to unify its people and recapture the integrity and national splendor of their country which has suffered greatly from the corruption French imperialism bestowed upon the colony.
So what do these movies tell us of the countries they portray? October show us that the Russian revolution was born of necessity as popular uprising consolidated itself through class struggle while The Battle of Algiers shows the losing nature of armed conflict and revolution as the French military did not hesitate to eliminate any innocence possibly associated with the guerilla. In conclusion, the commonality between them is the sense of triumph they inadvertently instill in the national narrative of their respective countries as champion revolutionaries who paid the great cost of change become national icons.