I meant to write earlier about Sacco E Vanzetti after watching a restored version of the movie in Paris last month. But I didn’t know where to start.
The film is based on the controversial murder trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the US in the 1920s. I was not familiar with the court case nor with the political and social circumstances in the US during this period. After watching Sacco E Vanzetti, I was filled with a deep sense of discomfort and many questions. I felt angered by the injustice and the inequality, which also made me weep.
Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrants living in the US. Both were of the working class – Sacco, a shoemaker and Vanzetti, a fishmonger – and were part of an anarchist movement, fighting for an egalitarian society and a better life.
The Atlantic Monthly published a long article on “The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti” written by Felix Frankfurter. Do read this for a comprehensive and objective overview of the case.
The case received international attention, drawing outcries and protests from all over including various American cities, as well as London, Buenos Aires, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Sydney and Mexico City. Close to half a million people signed a petition for clemency.
“What is anarchy or anarchism?” I asked AB after the movie. He explained it to me, emphasizing that it is important to understand it in context (i.e. the social economic situation).
I’m not going to even try to explain it here as I’m not an expert in this subject. If you are interested, there is an insightful article on anarchism amongst Italian immigrants in the US that was published in the Chicago Journals.
Following AB’s explanation and reading various articles online, it was clear that the issues that were highlighted in the movie still exist today. The location and groups of people involved may have changed but the fight for power continues.
This is not an example of anarchy: I was reminded of a recent strike in Singapore and the resulting court case after watching the film.
Singapore, in the past decades, has been reliant on foreign labour, in particular, to fill blue collar positions such as construction workers, street cleaners and service staff. There is no minimum wage in Singapore.
In 2012, 171 bus drivers from China participated in a strike against their Singaporean employer, SMRT – a public bus transport company. The strike was the first in Singapore in more than 25 years and was motivated by the unfair and lower salaries that the Chinese bus drivers received in comparison to their peers from Malaysia and Singapore. Another reason for the strike was to call attention to the drivers’ poor dormitory conditions.
The result? The normally efficient public transportation was in chaos for a few days. A few months later, a Singaporean court sentenced four Chinese nationals to imprisonment for several weeks for instigating an unauthorised strike. You can read more about it on The Guardian or CNN.
Quoted in the press were some Singaporeans who were disgruntled by the actions of the bus drivers and told them to go back to China. How many other Singaporeans had a different perspective and had instead questioned the inequality faced by the Chinese drivers (and other foreign blue collar workers)?
The soundtrack in Sacco e Vanzetti was composed by Ennio Morricone. Within is a three-part “Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti” featuring lyrics by Joan Baez which made me weep almost every time it came on.
The first four lines in the second part of the ballad was based on a letter written by Vanzetti when he was in prison.
Fear not to relay my crime
The crime is loving the forsaken
Only silence is shame
An art that’s lived for centuries
Go through the years and you will find
What’s blackened all of history
Against us is the law
With its immensity of strength and power
Against us is the law!
Police know how to make a man
A guilty or an innocent
Against us is the power of police!
The shameless lies that men have told
Will ever more be paid in gold
Against us is the power of the gold!
Against us is racial hatred
And the simple fact that we are poorMy father dear, I am a prisoner
Don’t be ashamed to tell my crime
The crime of love and brotherhood
And only silence is shameWith me I have my love, my innocence,
The workers, and the poor
For all of this I’m safe and strong
And hope is mine
Rebellion, revolution don’t need dollars
They need this instead
Imagination, suffering, light and love
And care for every human being
You never steal, you never kill
You are a part of hope and life
The revolution goes from man to man
And heart to heart
And I sense when I look at the stars
That we are children of life
Death is small
The speeches of the two gentlemen before they were sentenced for the final time articulates clearly the injustice that they and their families have been dealt with. The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti mirrors this.
I had come across a synopsis of the film when we were looking up Paris, Texas, on the official Festival de Cannes website. We decided to watch it, partly because it was being screened in La Pagode @ 57 bis rue de Babylone, an impressive Japanese pagoda in the seventh arrondissement of Paris (in France, not Texas).
La Pagode which was built in 1896 by the owner of Le Bon Marché for his (soon-to-be-ex) wife as a gift. Formerly used as a dance hall, the cinema features a lovely and small garden with lush bamboo in the courtyard.
While some of the original features – such as the tapestries with dragons, stained glass windows and exquisite gilt fixtures shaped as cranes and flowers – have been retained, more renovation will be needed in order to bring it back to its original splendour.
Nonetheless, it is still a gorgeous space to watch a movie. If there was more funding, maybe it would be properly restored like the Louxor cinema in the 10th arrondissement.