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.


All media means -tv, radio, newspapers, are the best way to spread ideas, points of view or to describe a certain situation. In the end, films has become also a source of public opinion and the public -including politicians, private individuals etc.- is aware of it. However, films are currently produced by private companies and not financed by the state as much as it used to be. However, films represent as well, the background of the financers and of course of the team in production. In other words, american films are likely to have a similar point of view -in terms of values; how poverty is approached; high standards of living etc.- This is of course, because people living in a common society has to follow similar standards so to enjoy a community life. But these standards, have been at the same time promoted by the propaganda means that governments used to have under control. “The politician understands the public. He knows what the public wants and what the public will accept. But the politician is not necessarily a general sales manager, a public relations counsel, or a man who knows how to secure mass distribution of ideas.” This means to say, that politics have shifted towards other sectors and using different mechanism in order to get the public's attention.

To sum up, the private sector brought significantly freedom to the Film sector, however, there are many facts involving a film's production. Most importantly when trying to show political issues, it is always important to stay critic.

I'm confused by your stance, your title says that these movies were too soon to be history but too late to be propaganda but you don't necessarily talk about why that is so. Your conclusion is that “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” and it just leaves me even more confused. How do you propose they instill a national pride if these films are not a piece of propaganda? The definition of propaganda is “information, ideas, or rumours deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc” there is no end date on propaganda, it serves its usefulness and when one issue is done they move on. The issue of national pride is something that never ends, every opening ceremony for the Olympics shows each nation fanning itself with an ornate spectacle and we compete in harmless fun to see which country is the best – we always think our country is. Nationalism is strong in this day and age and anyone who denies this is not paying attention.
A modern example of propaganda would be the movie American Sniper, the movie about an American war hero. Now I did not watch it, but a simple search on google shows that there are issues with the film itself, how it misrepresents why America went to war and how the war went down, but there’s also a bigger issue. Selma, the movie about Martin Luther King Jr and his campaign for voting rights, came out a week before American Sniper but the buzz was different. To be honest I’m not sure if there was buzz for Selma in the mainstream community like there was for American Sniper, but I do know I hear people asking “Did you see American Sniper? Oh you should it was so good!” and I hear nothing on Selma. Maybe it just wasn’t good but I want you to think, a movie that misrepresents the Iraq war – no doubt it is being painted in a positive light for the Americans and a negative one for the Iraqis – is being talked about a lot, but a movie that represents the African-American struggle for civil rights is ignored and forgotten. America is still fighting to justify their actions in the Middle East, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that contained information regarding Guantanamo Bay and the torture done there by the CIA and ISIS is at large in the Middle East just continuing the mess that is being justified by a Clint Eastwood movie. That sounds like propaganda to me.
As for the statement “too soon to be history” I wonder is that true? When do the victors start writing the history books, do they sit and wait, twiddling their thumbs or do they wear the victory proudly on them, like badges? I read a book that said American history textbooks include the bare information, but seem to be waiting for the generation that experienced the events to be gone before going into detail about historical events. I find that odd, and even a little bit scary, if they’re waiting for that generation to pass on, are they waiting for people who could dispute the events to disappear so they can fabricate history, or not worry about controversy should they accidentally get something wrong? On the other hand, how many American children are there, that don’t know about 9/11? I’ve accidentally went back to the propaganda issue when I wanted to talk about the history side of your claim. I personally believe in waiting a tasteful amount of time to start talking about past events, and writing them down in our history books. People need a moment to grieve and there is grief for the good (the fall of the Berlin Wall) and the bad (the Holocaust), but it is important that history be recorded and sources collected while it is still fresh in the minds of those who experienced it, while people are still alive to be “Oh yeah I kept a journal, here you go.” So really I don’t think there is such a thing as too soon to be history, and I don’t think those film makers thought there was either, because that is what they are doing with these films. They’re telling a nationalistic history, full of propaganda, and no doubt full of truths as well, but maybe also omitting truths that would have distorted their desired goal.

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