On Learning from The Battle of Algiers

First, Peggy Siegal, take a lesson from Pontecorvo’s publicist, who got such excellent blurbs from the Pentagon screening of The Battle of Algiers, who cares if the people giving them wouldn’t know credibility if it blew up underneath their Humvee:
“How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas!”
“Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range!
“Women plant bombs in cafes!”
“Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar!?”
But no, when it comes to the newly struck prints of The Battle of Algiers opening in cities this weekend, the The Nation‘s Stuart Klawans wants you to read it for the articles.
And what are the filmmaking lessons we can learn from BofA? Newsreel/documentary-style camerawork lends a sense of immediacy (which Klawans compares to Citizen Kane). Shooting on location makes for killer production design (look, the bulletholes are still fresh!) and saves money to boot. When a producer with money asks you to shoot his script, the proper response is, “I LOVE it!” even if you find it “”awful, and with a sickeningly propagandistic intention.” Then, after rewriting it beyond all recognition, cast your producer as your star. And finally, whenever possible, get Ennio Morricone to do your soundtrack.
Hmm. Replace Morricone with Theremin, and these could be The Lessons of Watching Ed Wood. Still, whether you’re with Rumsfeld, or with The Nation, go see The Battle of Algiers this weekend.
Update 1/12/04: I did see it, and it did rock, even if it has a rather fantasist ending. This Slate article has one more bit of life-imitates-art from the set. Apparently, when two factions of the FLN attacked each other in 1965, Algiers residents thought it was additional shooting for the film.