Who will go to see "The Battle of Chile?" It is a black-and-white documentary, more than three hours long, of political events that led to the military coup d'etat in Chile and the death of President Allende and his regime.
This is not a trivial question about who would want to see that much heavy stuff while better yuks and thrills are being offered in other theaters. It is question the filmmakers should have asked themselves so that some valuable film, perilously acquired, could have been more effectively presented.
If the audience is to be the crowd over from the Chilean refugee benefit concerts, that is one thing. The film can certainly reinforce passions that are already involved.
But for those who are not committed, whether from political conviction or from weariness with being asked to sympathize with foreign causes, this film will present problems. And the problems could be severe enough to neutralize the effectiveness of being able to see a presidential palace being bombed by its own militia, street fighting in which daytime crowds are seen fleeing from gunfire, and unctuous official explanations for the inexcusable.
First there is the narration, in which "the forces of imperialism and the bourgeousie" are constantly invoked as invisible political demons, by a crisp voice that seems to be recounting an obvious lesson to unquestioning minds. We are offered neither proof nor the possibility of doubts, in a style associated with propaganda, not history.
The second major fault is that much of the film is taken up by the familiar film technique of questioning the man in the street. "Who do you think is going to win the election?" "What do you think the future holds?" and so on. Naturally, nobody on the street can answer such questions intelligently - who could? Yet these "feelings," produced in response to a microphone thrust into the face, are given equal weight with bullets, and made to seem as deliberate.
The Chilean situation of 1973 was anything but simple and is particularly hard to follow dramatically because of its contrast to what we think of as the classic class war. The Marxist leader is not hiding in the hills; he is the constitutionally elected president. The down-trodden worker is opposing strikes backed by bosses. The revolutionary is is not trying to overthrow the government, he is trying to save it; it is the establishment that has that interest.
Name-calling only confuses the issue. Both sides are, of course, talking about freedom and human rights and the good of the country, often in the same words.
Editing the film down to half its present length - not for the sake of shortening it but to avoid diluting the action that has been recorded - and providing a reasonable narration, in which explanations are provided free of political assumptions and invective - would have made if infinitely more effective.
THE BATTLE OF CHILE - Key.