Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gabriel Range, "Death of a President" (2006).

If there's one way to be certain about becoming a target of FBI surveillance, it's to craft a documentary about the assassination of a sitting president. In fact, I'm probably taking some kind of risk by writing a review of the movie. But hell- I'm not doing anything wrong, and I'd certainly never advocate violence against the government. It would be a shame to become so paranoid about the erosion of our civil rights that I would find myself censoring my self-expression. I talked to a woman I met at a party the other night, and she was telling me how little trust she has in the US government. Meanwhile she works for them. I don't have an inordinate amount of trust in the leadership of this country either, but I hardly think they have the time and/or resources to invest in tracking down lawful citizens and harassing them. They've got bigger fish to fry than us guppies.

Anyway, I have to admit that I was honestly astonished to find out someone had made a fake documentary about the death of George W. Bush. The decision to work on such a project does seem to cross some line. I don't believe that an American could ever get financing for such a film. In this case that was no problem, as the filmmakers are British. They were obviously not dissuaded by any type of "chilling effect" in the wake of 9-11 and the subsequent "War on Terrorism". I've also been surprised that I've not heard too much of the backlash directed against the release of the film. I'd have to assume that most people in the United States aren't even aware of its existence. One can only imagine that the mainstream media (aside from Fox and AM Radio) would likely downplay any story about this documentary.

When I saw a used copy of Death of a President at Hollywood Video, I was compelled by my own curiosity to take it home and watch it. I wondered whether it would be some perverse type of wish fulfillment on the part of its creators. What I discovered was an extremely well-made movie posing as a conventional documentary. The production values, the performance, the dialog and the editing all seemed indistinguishable from something you'd see on public television. It was completely convincing, as if the events portrayed had actually taken place. It employs both actual media footage and a variety of other camera outputs to add layers of authenticity. Had I just returned to the United States from space, I would have believed I was watching actual history. Given the way the film presents the speculative consequences of the assassination, we should all thank our gods that it never happened.

Anybody of rational mind should be able to figure out that killing the head of our government could never have positive results. Sure... I've heard people make offhand comments that Bush's absence would be welcome. I'm not a big fan of Dubya myself. But who of sane mind would want to face the extreme negative consequences of such an eventuality? For one- we live in a purported "representative democracy". Violence undermines the entire enterprise. If you use such tactics to influence the course of society, then you risk evoking (or actually embracing) the vilest of human tendencies. Additionally such acts of civil disorder only prompt further repressions from whoever is left in the federal government. In Death of a President, we see the new President Cheney push through a new and stricter version of the Patriot Act. We also see him use the fatal attack as an excuse to promote another invasion of a Middle Eastern country.

It's no wild leap of reasoning to suggest that the assassination of our leader would be viewed as an attack of "terrorism", no matter the provenance of the perpetrators. All types of retributions would be justified in response. What scares me most about the scenario portrayed in Death of a President is the remarkable realism of the production. Given that a fiction like this can be made on a relatively small budget, just think what the government itself could do with its unlimited resources. It seems that we can no longer trust our own senses in determining the truth of a situation. We have entered the era of infinite doubt. With modern technologies, we can be led to believe anything at all has happened. Imagine how easy it would be for a manufactured (or virtual) crisis to be put into play.

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