Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Saw rerelease of -Battle of Algiers- w/ Kristi yesterday. I guess I didn't read the reviews very carefully; I went in thinking it was a documentary, which it manifestly was not, though I take it that it attempts to portray certain events accurately. Moving, at times unbearable -- in the torture scenes, which were more about the prisoners' desperation in the aftermath. Strongest section, at least in light of present concerns, was the sequence in which three Algerian women cut their hair and make themselves look as Western (therefore assimilated, therefore non-radical) as a way of getting through checkpoints w/ bombs. If it had a flaw, it's that the officer in charge of the French military operation gives a somewhat actorly, rhetorical performance; as against the performers playing the radicals, who have a Bressonian authenticity. Of course, the point of the rerelease is in the implicit comparison between France/Algeria and U.S./Iraq, w/ the idea being that we may win the battle, but we'll lose the war; counterinsurgency is doomed against Muslim fervor (though the religious angle is played down in the Algerians' motivations here, as against plain desire for self-determination). The comparison doesn't work in all ways, as we're not there to -sustain- our colonial control of an established colony; and we're surely not trying to -establish- a colony in the traditional sense, because one doesn't do that anymore; even the most cynical would say that we're looking to put in place a government that, though it will not be the government, necessarily, that the people of Iraq would choose, will be nominally 'theirs.' Our colonialism is unfortunately subtler, less visible, and likely harder to overcome.

Watched just about all of -On The Town- at Bree's. I'm always annoyed at the Freed Unit's replacement of songs from the original Bernstein/Comden/Green B-way score w/ new MGM-vetted (i.e. musically simpler) numbers. What the hell was wrong with "Some Other Time"? Instead, we get that terrible "You're Awful (Nice)" thing that Sinatra sings to Betty Garrett. Still, there's "Come Up To My Place" and the opening sequence. The other thing I hadn't noticed before is that the movie makes reference to other MGM stars -- Mickey Rooney is a punchline at one point, and one of the new songs ("Primitive Man," w/ its offensive staging) has a line about "Mrs. Johnson's blonde boy Van." Even more than Hollywood per se, MGM is a closed system -- the apex of this is the rewritten "Drop That Name" in the film version of Bells Are Ringing, which replaces a lot of the fairly knowing Manhattan references with, again, names of studio personages, which doesn't even fit the setting or the point of the scene.

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