America turns 50 this year -- the America, that is, that we recognize as ours. It was half a century ago that our new founding fathers made their debut on the national stage: Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley. The latter, per Life's August 27, 1956, issue, was “Elvis -- A Different Kind of Idol”: a different idol for a different America.
The irresistible force of America's post–World War II Red Scare first slammed into the immovable object of network television in September 1953, when the House Un-American Activities Committee revealed that TV's biggest star had registered to vote in the 1936 election as a Communist. The redhead was a Red.
Can photographs, motion pictures, and television create social change? Or would it be more accurate to say that these camera-based forms construct a social reality? Michael Moore notwithstanding, the ultimate test case appeared 90 years ago: D.W. Grifﬁth's The Birth of a Nation, released throughout America in the spring of 1915, remains the single most important movie ever made in this country, as well as the most inﬂammatory one.
He was, per Jean-Paul Sartre, “the most complete human being of our age.” Not to be outdone, Susan Sontag eulogized him as “the clearest, most unequivocal image of the humanity of the world-wide revolutionary struggle unfolding today.” He, of course, is Ernesto “Che” Guevara, although the key word in Sontag's formulation is neither “humanity” nor “revolutionary” but “image.”
The Battle of Algiers is back -- along with The Battle of Algiers scenario. At a time when Gillo Pontecorvo's documentary-style account of a bloody, anti-colonialist urban uprising has been used by commentators from Tariq Ali to Zbigniew Brzezinski to describe the situation in occupied Iraq, and only months after a well-publicized screening at the Pentagon, the movie itself is poised for re-release in January.