Last year, Gillo Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers, which chronicles the ruthless war of independence against the French colonialists in the Fifties, was screened at the Pentagon. Made in 1965 and initially banned in France, the picture was reportedly billed as: "How to win the battle against terrorism but lose the war of ideas." The events depicted on screen might easily have been filmed in Iraq in the past few months, and it is with grim timeliness that Asian Dub Foundation, the unashamedly political collective who started out as a sound system in the mid-Nineties, have alighted on the film as a framework for their blend of bhangra, breakbeats and hip-hop grooves.
Filmed in the pioneering style of a hand-held camera, The Battle of Algiers convinced many of its early viewers that they were watching a documentary. Though the director's allegiances were clear, it was primarily a study of tactics on both sides. The film, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, focuses on 1954-7, when freedom fighters in the casbah embarked on a campaign of terror while trying to fend off the French attempts to destroy them.
We watch Muslim women evading roadblocks by dressing as Westerners, and planting bombs in cafés crammed with civilians in the European quarter. It's with equal horror that we see French soldiers torturing trussed-up insurgents with electric cables and blowtorches. At a press conference held in response to allegations of brutality, the French commander, Colonel Mathieu, chillingly states: "We are soldiers, and our duty is to win. I would now like to ask you a question: should France remain in Algeria? If the answer is 'yes', then you must accept the consequences."
Tonight, sound and image prove a potent, often terrifying combination. Using two guitarists, a DJ and a lone violinist, Asian Dub Foundation expertly evoke the maze-like claustrophobia of the Algerian casbah and the bubbling tension on the rigorously policed thoroughfares. Stark, stabbing grooves and eerie samples accompany the banshee wails of defiance erupting from the casbah, while pictures of violent clashes between soldiers, rebels and civilians on the streets come with frenetic breakbeats that echo the sound of gunfire. During the infrequent dialogue, the soundtrack quietens to a melancholic whisper. Though you occasionally wish that more were made of Ennio Morricone's original score, it is never eclipsed.
As with Pontecorvo, a self-proclaimed Marxist, it's obvious where ADF's sympathies lie, though here they have chosen to reflect the violence on screen, rather than pass judgement on it. Their score adds urgency and energy to an already explosive picture. If only the Pentagon chiefs could see it now.Reuse content