Thomas Korschil


When Report was finished — then he was dead. My films are the “real world“, it´s not a fantasy. 10

A political event and its representation in the media was the starting point of Bruce Conner´s film Report(1963-67, 13 min.): the assassination of President Kennedy and its mediation via radio and television. Report developed through several versions and also led to paintings, sculptures, and installations. Conner originally filmed the images directly from the TV-screen, on the very day of the assassination. Only later did he procure the news material on 16mm and collage it with other images. Besides the shots from the day of the killing in Dallas in November 1963 — where, incidentally, the central moment, the assassination itself and Kennedy´s death were omitted — Conner used material from various sources: pictures of a bullfight, TV-ads, the explosion of a nuclear bomb, motion picture cuts starring a crazy scientist, Kennedy´s audience with the pope, circus animals, cuts from a war movie, and so on. Throughout the film the images are accompanied by a live radio broadcast forming the basis for the associations and metaphors created in the visual montage. Moreover, a longer sequence of Report offers “empty“ cinema.

Therein are contained the sections of “blank“ footage and the repeating leader numbers. This use of repetitious, beating images is also imposed upon the newsreel sections [...] In combination with the sound track — the arrival of the President, the description of the motorcade, the assassination and death — these passages begin to assume dramatic import. The section of “blank“ footage occurs, for instance, just after “something has happened“ to the motorcade and during the chaotic and foggy moments which followed. In other words, as the “live“ action vanished into a veil of unknowable disorder, the visual material likewise blanks out. The newscaster´s words “something has happened“ then take on multiple implications. As the flashing greys persist upon the screen, people in the audience actually begin to wonder if “something has happened“, not only to the President, but to the film itself. 11

What Conner attempted over several years was to come to terms with the real event as well as, perhaps even more disturbing, the media event. Though Report seems like an anti-documentary, an “anti-information film“, it tries to decode the media event, and using media images Conner wants to find out and depict, or rather allude to what has “really“ happened 12 . For Conner the murder of the president “was transformed in the media by political, social, and economical pressure“ in such a way that ultimately the essential confrontation with murder and death was obscured and translated into a ritual celebrated with endless repetitions 13 .

After repeatedly probing the news material, Conner examines, in associations becoming freer and freer, the invisible powers active in the veiling of the event ´s mediation as well as in the event itself. In his analysis of Report, Kelman identifies these irrational powers as “the energies of the New World“, though not without emphasising that Conner ´s films do not offer simple solutions, but are always characterised by allusion and ambiguity.

The relation of supercharged energies to violence, of technology to impersonality, of long-distance communications to pathological omniscience, of long-distance weapons to pathological omnipotence — all this is implication. Perhaps it is America who is implicated, or that modern dynamic which is archetypically hers. 14

Yet we do not ourselves want to contend with this America-bashing, but rather point out that the aspects mentioned by Kelman are the outcome of European history, of Western civilisation as such. Moreover, it is interesting to observe that Report virtuously visualises and critically reverses what Horkheimer and Adorno called an essential feature of the cultural industry — its montage-like fragmentariness refusing wholeness, splitting up an oeuvre in disparate elements each of which can be picked out and used for the essential purpose of industrial production of culture: advertising.

Inserting commercials in the documentary and fictional images of Report Conner depicts the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a ‘deal’, a business comparable to the selling of soap, as something that has to be done regardless of occasional victims. Report shows how the pictures of the assassination in the media have too become merchandise, and at the same time an advertisement for the operating system of an entire civilisation.

part four