Sunday, December 10, 2006

On not being able to watch "The Battle of Algiers"

The Battle of Algiers showed up on my Netflix rotation some six months ago. I'd seen it before, years ago, in college, but only minutes after popping it into my DVD player I had to turn the damn thing off. I knew what was coming - the brutality and the torture - and I just couldn't handle it, now that my country was on the wrong side of the torture question. It was almost funny how what was once "bracing and raw" but still basically a distanced, aesthetic experience was now an intolerably "real" one. Clearly, our culture has been talking itself into its embrace of torture for quite some time - it began with Quentin Tarantino, I suppose, but "the conversation" is now in high gear with the success of 24 and torture-porn flix like Saw and Hostel (indeed, Tarantino - a bit late to return to his own party - will soon grace us with Grindhouse). These are all repellent, of course - but somehow their exploitive nature makes them more tolerable than Battle of Algiers. I read yesterday that Human Rights First has determined at least eight detainees in US custody have been tortured to death. Eleven more have died due in part to their torture. Other accountants have pegged the number of people tortured to death by you and me somewhat higher, and of course no one knows how many have been killed by our agents in the secret gulag of prisons to which terrorist suspects have been extradited.

"The Battle of Algiers" is still sitting on the DVD player; I never returned it to Netflix. Why? Do I still hope someday to watch it again?

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