September 25, 1967 [The Battle of Algiers]

After watching The Battle of Algiers nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to lurch down the street, letting tears blind my eyes, and lifting my head up, opening my mouth to make no sound, and be like something out of Dostoevsky, filled with the terrible joy of being guilty of everything. I want to let the tears fall unwiped, and feel saliva drip from the corners of my mouth and into my ears, and tear my garment like an Elder hearing blasphemy, trying with every muscle in my hands to dig contrition out of my flesh like something alive under there, in my chest.

The French have given us this movie the way they have given us Vietnam: as a bloody rag to tie on our gun barrels and wave and point at ourselves. Martin Luther King spoke on Vietnam with all the finality we needed, calling up to it like a street-corner preacher railing against a whorehouse--and meanwhile the interrogation becomes torture, what we want to know beaten, tied to a chair, the essential information no longer required, just the clenched assertion of bloody fists.

And everyone in The Battle of Algiers goes down to that low room to take a few swings at the evil they see—like McNamara insisting No and Yes, as though he’d taken one on the jaw himself, his head spinning. The women, too, carry the bombs, not just B-52s--and some of the murderers are Moslems, and some are Christians--and the Buddhists and the Communists and the old campaigners and their sons and daughters also. It will get worse for all of us just walking down the street, our shoes shined but our heads pounding from the sudden noise as the cafĂ© down the way explodes. It makes a sound like something in my head, sending me onto the sidewalk with a wounded child in my arms that gets heavier with each step.


  1. The combination of fierce loyalty and mob mentality at work, especially in the fervor of the revolutionaries, is striking in Battle of Algiers. It's both inspiring and terrifying, embodied as it is in Ali La Pointe's descent down the stairs with his whole community marching with him; and in the scenes providing a stark vision of the preparations of three female cafe bombers, chosen to carry the destructive payload specifically because they are perceived as vulnerable and invisibility.

    I must confess, the emotional weight of the film was less strong for me than it was for you; the documentary approach made it feel too much like journalism. Perhaps I'm too conditioned to need Hollywood's emotional cues.

  2. Well, as far as "emotional weight" is concerned, keep in mind this is an "imaginary" cinema diary. The diarist is living in the U.S. in 1967; I wanted to show the weight of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement on this sensitive soul. (But I will admit that my own response was a kind of despair, a sense that we take turns living in these cycles of injustice-retribution-retaliation-outrage-retribution-retaliation-etc. Not to mention the burden of "culturally collaborating" in such terror.)

  3. Thanks for pointing this out. I found it interesting as describing a population bought to boiling point and it's temporary quenching.


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