I will be screening a shortened version of Gillo Pontecorvo’s epic, radical film Burn! (1969) this Sunday at the New York City Anarchist Film Festival for day two of the Eighth Annual NYC Anarchist Bookfair. A “sequel” of sorts to Pontecorvo’s 1966 Battle of Algiers, Burn! stars Marlon Brando as a British agent sent to a fictional Caribbean island colonized by the Portuguese (“Queimada”) who foments a slave insurrection against the colonial masters only to have Queimada’s white plantation-owner class declare formal independence on terms favorable to the British Crown. Brando’s character, Sir William Walker, is then called back to the island ten years later to put down a revolution led by the same ex-slave he originally had used to displace the Portuguese from rule. The film clearly was an allegory for the Vietnam War, and it bears the strong imprint of Frantz Fanon’s writings on decolonization, in addition to recalling the course of the Haitian Revolution–with the difference that Napoleon’s failed attempt to recolonize the republic and enslave its citizens succeeds in this version. Moreover, Pontecorvo’s work has much to say about the present environmental crisis, for Queimada (“Burnt”) had originally been entirely burnt down by the Portuguese in an attempt to eradicate the resistance of the island’s indigenous inhabitants. In this sense, as John Bellamy Foster writes cogently, Burn! can also be taken as an extended metaphor for global warming, given that this increasingly fatal tendency bears its origins and is undoubtedly perpetuated and exacerbated by the totalitarian need of the capitalist class to hold onto power.
As Adorno notes, “The bourgeoisie live on like specters threatening doom.”
Tags: Battle of Algiers, bourgeoisie, British Crown, Burn!, climate catastrophe, climate change, colonialism, decolonization, Frantz Fanon, Gillo Pontecorvo, global warming, Haitian Revolution, John Bellamy Foster, Marlon Brando, Napoleon, NYC Anarchist Bookfair, NYC Anarchist Film Festival, Portugal, Queimada, Sir William Walker, slavery, Theodor W. Adorno, Vietnam War