(Bruce Conner, USA, 1967)


On the day that John F. Kennedy was shot, the great American experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner started recording the images of the assassination off his TV set onto Super 8. Four years later, after obsessive reworking and re-editing of the found footage (the form of much of his work) Conner completed his thirteen-minute Report.

On the soundtrack, we hear the television and radio commentaries of that fatal day, describing in tones of rising hysteria and confusion the unfolding drama. On the image-track, however, Conner withholds the famous frames that record the key moments of shooting and death.

At the beginning we see over and over a piece of footage preceding the event: the Kennedy's waving from the Presidential vehicle. When the sound reaches the fatal, historic moment, Conner shows nothing: first a white screen, then a violent, flickering alternation of black and white frames.

Finally, representational images return – hundreds from every imaginable source, newsreels, ads, cartoons, fiction films – montaged in a frantic free association, an ironic whirligig of a thousand disconnected fragments.

It is as if Conner intuited, from that first moment of the TV apparition of Kennedy's death, that henceforth our entire relation to that event would be through images and sounds recorded and disseminated by the mass media – and that our obsession with making sense of the event would work itself out through an endless replay of the footage.

Conner, in the extremeness of his avant-garde art, gives future generations of media junkies only two options. Either they will be taunted forever by the lack of anything to really, truthfully see in the audio-visual archive; or they will see too much, falling into an endless, hallucinatory spin – imagining one story or conspiracy after another. Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) of course provides one vision of this future.

Report, Conner's masterpiece, anticipated the uncontrollable panic and the delirium of interpretation that fuels our media-mad twenty-first century.

© Adrian Martin December 1993/April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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