28 April 2006

Thoughts/debate on "V for Vendetta"

This is in response to an article "Putting Our Hopes Into Leaders: V for Vendetta vs. The Battle of Algiers" by Jamilah Hoffman on the website of World Can't Wait.

I very much disagree with this viewpoint. Unfortunately I don't have time to write a complete article about it (something I had wanted to do weeks ago, actually, & it's still not done now, so thank you for the motivation & here's some quick thoughts...)

Look, the movie isn't perfect. But it's pretty close. As the article points out, V does involve the masses. Yes it leans too much towards just him calling all the shots. But the fact is that his calls are simply for people to take action. Some do, some don't in the interim year. But on that second 5 Nov, *everybody* comes out in the streets. One should remember too that it's not as though everything is resolved at the end of the movie. In my mind at least the struggle would need to leap to a whole other level to completely take down the government, the events in the movie are just the beginning and a battle won but not the war. There is also to consider that movies generally focus on individuals and single events, for easier storytelling & as symbols. Which is a problem, though (1) not unique to V, (2) I'm not sure how you'd get around it in a 2 hour movie format, & (3) individual leaders & single cataclysmic events are important, after all. And yes there is a big question as to whether he is mainly motivated by justice or revenge, though clearly both are in the mix. But who said that just because it's fiction it has to be neat & tidy? These contradictions are real & I think it's much better viewing than some flat heroic stereotype.

As for "Battle of Algiers", that's one of my favourites too. I'd point out that it also focuses on a few individuals to follow the story, although yes it is obvious that there are many more involved, but I'm not sure to what extent this is obvious from the storytelling or to what extent it's from the historical knowledge that the viewer has. However the statement in Jamilah's article "The real life story of the Algerian people, as shown in The Battle of Algiers, answers that question in the freedom of the Algerian people from colonial rule," is really disturbing to me. The real life story is that despite their heroic triumph over the colonialists, they did not achieve freedom. Rather they traded oppressive colonialism for oppressive religious rule & eventually neo-colonialism under the very same French imperialists. Especially on the WCW site it is bad to promote the idea that the Algerian people achieved freedom, full stop, no disclaimers or further explanation. I say especially because one of the big questions/criticisms people have is "what happens after Bush is driven out, won't it be worse?" Now I disagree with that criticism of WCW, and also as a supporter of the RCPUSA I agree with its plan for revolution which is certainly something to set up a just society with, beyond the revolt against the unjust. But Algeria is exactly an example which would support the criticism, because maybe it wasn't worse but it certainly ain't good there now.

Back to V. I think that the demoralisaton of the people is actually quite a realistic portrayal. It is one reason why it's so necessary to stop fascism before it becomes full-blown. Look at the White Rose movement, people in Germany weren't scrambling to help out, neither were they all pro-Nazi, mostly they were scared &/or thought nothing was possible to be done. The main question in V is violence. This is what people are talking about after seeing it. This is what affected when the audience clapped or not, when they had shocked and thoughtful moments of silence. It even made Natalie Portman reconsider her thoughts on the Palestinian struggle. Is violence justified? Is there more than one kind of violence? V answers both these questions in a revolutionary way: violence is justified in certain conditions & in certain forms, that is revolutionary violence by the people against the oppressor.

"Battle of Algiers" is a great movie, but the history there is not what we want to repeat. On the one hand we want to forge our own path & not attempt to fit circles into squares or repeat mistakes, but also there are much better historical & contemporary examples anyway (Russia, China, Nepal...).

Frankly "V for Vendetta" is the best movie ever made. It doesn't have a perfect political line, but it has a damn good one. And its combination of that with wonderful artistic skill makes it extremely powerful.


At 04 Mai, 2006 17:47, Anonymous Jamilah Hoffman said...

This is Jamilah. I want to thank you for your comments. The point of view I was taking in my article is that either the masses have to get involved on a greater level, and involve themselves in actually freeing themselves or it's not going to happen. I get the sense that people in america are waiting for someone or something to free them and that this is quite dangerous and I wanted to write about something current that reflects that. (Am fully aware of the fact that I am comparing a fictional movie with one based on one man accounts.)

I did not get into the Algerian people and their rule under a religious dictatorship because I wanted to highlight the fact that they were able to throw off French colonialism and that should be celebrated. It is important to note the full history of the Algerian people, however, that was not the purpose of my article. Perhaps that is something you can delve into. And thank you for higlighting the plight of the Algerian people.

At 05 Mai, 2006 16:10, Blogger ... said...

Hi Jamilah,

Thanks for reading & responding. Hope I didn't sound too harsh or anything. This movie is not perfect in my opinion either, but I took issue with the Algeria thing & that you seem to have a mainly negative evalution of the movie; I think it's overwhelmingly positive but certainly worthy of criticism.

Definitely it is bad that many people are just waiting for someone else to free them, they need to get involved themself. I do think individual (& collective/organisational) leadership is very important. So are "sparks" -- rather than gradually grinding away at the enemy -- though I don't have a completely worked out idea of this, there are hard contradictions we must all deal with.

That is, on the one hand leadership & bold actions are necessary -- you can't rely on spontaneity. However you also need mass action, mass knowledge, & mass organisation -- you can't rely on heroes.

So it's a big challenge to
1. provide proper leadership, constantly push the envelope (I think that's the right saying...) but not have leaders become too isolated or have actions with no mass effect (which could be either because it's a bit too advanced for the current mood & situation, or because people might sit back & expect you to do everything for them), and
2. get masses of people involved & acting but not stoop to lowest common denominator, tail backwards ideas, rely on spontaneity, etc.

The RCPUSA has a slogan for the strategy for revolution in an imperialist country, "hasten and await a revolutionary situation". This is very hard to do, on the one we need to do everything possible to bring about favourable conditions for a revolutionary overthrow of the current order, on the other hand we can't jump ahead & think we can do that tomorrow at 2pm or whatever just because it's been needed & materially able to happen for hundreds of years already.

Alright Jamilah I've rambled on long enough now I think. I'll end by just saying that I definitely agree with the main point you're trying to make, though I don't think that aspect makes the movie less than great.

At 05 Mai, 2006 19:36, Anonymous Jamilah said...

Hey, It's Jamilah again. I just wanted to say that I thought the movie was really good, and that it is important for people to see it and for dialogues to begin which is what happened with the crew that i saw it with.

Let the Future Look Back
On A Generation That Looked Ahead, Jamilah


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