Monday, November 03, 2008

On the Assassination of the President

On the Assassination of the President
Directed by Adam Keker, United States, 2008, 6 minutes
Source: Wholphin no. 6

"On the Assassination of the President" is a short disguised as a top-secret government document detailing what steps to take in the event of the President's assassination. Narrated by a deep, monotone voice, with a creepy ambient sound in the background, and composed mainly of still shots, this short does a pretty good job of imagining what a top-secret government video might look like. Probing a little deeper into the absurdity of the film, however, its essence becomes nearly impossible to grasp. Actual government document? Produced by conspiracy theorists? A satire of a government document? A satire of conspiracy theory? We're left scratching our heads, maybe imbued with a vague conviction that hovers somewhere around "government is bad!"

Step 1, according to our narrator, is to release to the press footage of the sniper and of the Secret Service agents responding to his attacks. "The sniper is wounded, but escapes," the narrator explains. The first interesting element of "On the Assassination" this brings up is the heavy political commentary. Assuming this short is a reflection of the director's views (which is a loaded topic we probably don't need to bring up now), this is not a person who is trusting of the government, demonstrating that (exaggerated, I'm guessing) mistrust by crafting a conspiracy theory that predates the event it is based on.

Which brings us to the next cool thing about "On the Assassination." As it progresses, the steps become more specific and, consequently, more absurd. Dossiers are drawn up for the three suspects who have been identified for the future potential assassination of the president; one of these, the narrator explains, must be taken into custody immediately following the crime. The incriminating evidence against all three of the suspects is varied and nonsensical (such as Suspect 1's possession of 50 identical cardboard boxes detailing a crime scene??? What??), but the common thread is that each of their photographs on file is in part a composite of a photo of some widely identifiable criminal (e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), which is clearly much better evidence than the cardboard boxes thing. Chronology and rationale become increasingly muddled as footage from past wars and events is openly recycled. Also, the narrator eschews specifics, identifying the present day only as "this year."

So instead of acting as pointed political commentary on any one specific administration, "On the Assassination" itself becomes a composite (Beckett, Orwell, and Dr. Strangelove all come to mind), but what of, we're still not sure--or else we are sure for a second, and then the next second we've lost it again. The kind of government that would make this kind of tape exist in the past, the present, or the future, and the director's objective is obviously to confuse. But if we want to take some kind of message away from this, we might venture that it serves as a warning against the danger of preemptive profiling--and, perhaps, profiling in general.


not Ryan said...

This short film just really threw me through a loop. I mean at first I'm just scratching my head wondering how in the heck did Dave Eggers and co. get ahold of this top secret document! As the video progresses, it becomes more and more absurd and, in my opinion, hilarious! I really don't see the intention of 'On The Assassination...' as anything more than creating a fun, roller coaster ride of a film that's very well thought out and funny. The narration and visuals touch upon a host of political and conspiratorial themes but, as CC-W points out, in a satirical way. I loved it!

Prince Caspian said...

I saw this film as opportunity lost, or a failed attempt to make some serious social commentary. How can someone make a film about such 'themes' without making some kind of overt stance. I mean with the Loose Change Documentaries on the 9/11 attacks and movies like Vantage Point, people today are much quicker to suspect foul play when something unexpected happens. Perhaps it's the availability of information on the internet, or the ease in which people can find like-minded conspiracy theorists on blogs, but people are becoming increasingly paranoid. Sometimes you have just got to make like Machiavelli and submit to fortune.

Ryan said...

Well, the film does take a stance in a way. But through satire.
In a 'learn to stop worrying and love the bomb' kind of way that's cynically objective and humorous in its biting response to paranoid fears.

Steve Erdman said...

I think the portrayal of the footage as being real or found is a great technique and helps this piece

Drew Rosensweig said...

Really does a wonderful job of not only being ridiculous at points but also capable of poignancy, as well. The point you raise about the short being a composite itself seems to be true, and the amalgamation of possible governments that could produce a video like this in the future heightens the entertainment but also the message.

Cecilia C-W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.