It was Paul Beaumont, a French reporter, who documented the city of Algerique back in 1957. The footage has recently been discovered in the Municipal Archive of Marseille, and since few people these days know about the City of Fun (and even fewer believe it has ever existed) and since the discovery has largely been ignored by French press ('Algerique?' we were asked by a Paris Review journalist, 'have you seen it on the map of France in the last fifty years?'), La Depeche du Matin feels the need to publish this article.
Below, we have tried to recreate the experience of watching Paul Beaumont’s documentary so that a new generation could puzzle over the legend of the City of Fun.
The film is grainy black and white and lasts just over twenty three minutes, but there is a strong sense that you are seeing something that could in a hundred years be considered a cult classic.
First shot is of a rather ordinary-looking city. It’s early morning, and Paul Beaumont is walking down a narrow street of Algerique talking about the city and how it came to relative prominence in late 19th century as 'the City of Fun' because of its never-ending festivals and parties and the fact that its inhabitants have seemingly found the recipe for absolute happiness. In that opening scene (approx. two minutes), he also states the purpose of the documentary. Which is to tell the world about Algerique as well as to explain why its citizens 'have no concept of misery' (Paul’s words).
Suddenly, we start hearing music and the camera is pulled to the left where we see a group of people dancing around what appears to be a huge pole covered in pieces of clothing as well as flags of various colours and sizes. The camera snatches out a smiling face of an old man who is trying to explain that Algerique has given him the sense of joy, freedom, calm.
'Why City of Fun?' asks a teenager, no doubt repeating the question posed by Mr. Beaumont. 'Look around!'
Then a couple of jerky shots (someone may have pushed the cameraman in a fit of passionate dancing) and suddenly we are in another street. This appears to be early afternoon, and two young ladies can be seen talking to each other. Paul tells Vincent (apparently Vincent is his cameraman) that they need to approach them and ask a few questions.
The ladies seem to be enjoying the talk. Clearly there is no sense of blind, mindless joy about them (which was suggested by certain critics back in the day). They seem naturally content and explain that 'fun' is all over the city, 'fun' is overwhelming, but it does not necessarily mean belly-dancing or dressing up like a clown.
'And what if someone dies?' asks Paul.
'Well, people do', says the girl named Claire. 'They do. All you need to do is take the right approach. We just know how to cope'.
Then it gets a little confusing as the camera seems to be jumping around, facing random people of Algerique. Everyone is smiling in a very disarming manner. These smiles are devoid of madness or drugged up euphoria (again, screw you, critics of Algerique!). Some are talking about the city governor in terms that are flattering yet reasonable. Some can't help but break out in a song. Some are joking with Paul and Vincent and invite them into a bar or a cafe.
'No alcohol', says Paul walking around a restaurant with a sense of genuine amazement. And then repeats: 'No alcohol'.
After which there is a rather expendable scene with long shots of the menu. Then some old woman is whispering 'I love you' into the camera, then a few more quick interviews and then the final scene. Which is also the longest as it lasts a little less than five minutes.
What we see in this last scene is a rather hypnotic shot of the streets of Algerique that are all empty. Which isn’t too strange as it is late evening or possibly even midnight. While the scene is somewhat uneventful, we could not stop watching it and even made the point of rewinding it five times.
The scene ends rather curiously, with a shot that, you feel, makes zero to no sense. A small boy is seen crying on the edge of the pavement. Vincent rushes to the boy, we see Paul running with a microphone, in front of the camera, at which point the screen goes black, and everything stops.
Thus, we’ve come to the end of the footage and Paul Beaumont’s legendary documentary on the city of Algerique.
* Nothing is known of Paul Beaumont's existence after this documentary. We have also found nothing about the mysterious cameraman named Vincent.
** We would have gladly posted the footage on the official YouTube channel of La Depeche du Matin, but last week, when we tried to get another viewing and consulted the Municipal Archive of Marseilles, they told us that the Paul Beaumont documentary was no longer available.
La Depeche du Matin,
Le 21 Juillet, 2016