THE BIG EVENT
“There’s such a gulf in history between the day before and the day after Kennedy’s assassination” says the historian Howard Jones “it’s as if we pass through a hundred years in a day.”
Some moments in history are just like that, defining moments. These moments has the quality of being remembered as the before…and after… moments; the “life will never be the same”-moments. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of these moments, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is one of these moments, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is one of these moments, too. (Assassinations, in general, fall under the “category” of these moments.) September 11 is the last candidate to join these defining moments. The assassination of JFK, the center of “The BIG Event” piece, is for sure a before…and after…moment.
What turns a historical event into such a moment is the point of departure for “The BIG Event”. What was before, and how we handle the after, is sometimes more important than the event itself. What are the facts, the details, the stories (real and fictional) that made these moments into the big event that effects the way we manage our lives.
When does a moment reach a point of diminishing returns? Can it be that the colossal images of September 11, 2001, have easily deposed the squalid scene of Dallas, of the murders of Kennedy and Oswald, which once supplied the bond of a common televised melodramatic “experience”?
Or, can one find a connection, a line that ties all of those defining moments together. JFK’s story is our story. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We, the West, are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassination, whatever it takes to gain the end victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. The assassination of Osama Bin Laden, by the way, is not a “moment” only a footnote; a killing that was ordered by an American president who in one way or another ecoes the youth and hope that Kennedy represented.
But maybe the JFK story is still relevant to us not via the big political issues but through the personal and the banal; the calculated combination of sex, showbiz, money, and bravado that was and is in the center of the Kennedy’s mystique, and became a big part of our contemporary life. We keep going back to the 60s as a way to ask ourselves the what if question. “The image of Kennedy is not based on what he accomplished, but on his promise, the hope he held out,” said the historian Stephen Ambrose in 1993. James Reston wrote similarly that “what was killed in Dallas was not only the President but the promise. The heart of the Kennedy legend is what might have been.” So, can it be that JFK’s assassination took the hope from us, the possibility of better life, and all that is left is the sex, showbiz, money, and bravado? It is not for nothing that the day Kennedy died is referred to as the day when we lost our innocence?
In TV it is all about nostalgia, the 60s seem much more alive than our current time. But when a series like Mad Men devotes some chapters to the Kennedy – Nixon debates in the same time the Obama – McCain debates took place, it is hard not to see the implication, the references, the memories. JFK”s times are still alive and kicking.
Since the JFK saga spawn a bewildering variety of books-films-documents-facts-stories, it is impossible to think of it as an average length show. It is believed that more words have been written about the assassination than any other single, one-day event in world history. The BIG Event requires a large scale show, a period of work that stretches over a long time and presented in at least two installments.
Part 1 (approximately 2 hours)
Sub-title: Superman comes to the Supermarket or The New Frontier
In 1960 Kennedy gave a speech before an audience in Los Angeles. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier,” he said. “The frontier of the 1960s. A frontier of unknown opportunities and perils. A frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats…the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. it is a set of challenges…Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will?…Are we up to the task? Are we equal to the challenge?”
What was this New Frontier? Who were the people who wanted to conquer it? Was it a set of ideas or a smart use of new technologies that came into life around the same time? Kennedy was the first one to do live TV press conferences, and what came out of those was the power of his personality, his wit, and his youth. He realized he could use TV to create an image of himself, and TV is used even more massively today. Look at George Bush, flying onto that aircraft carrier. Not that any of this necessarily began with Kennedy. But Kennedy attached his candidacy to the emerging information media of the time and to the emerging science of public opinion as surely as he attached the rhetoric of his New Frontier to the exploding space-age technologies, and he did it so well that his mythology still dwarfs that of any other candidate who has come after him. Because Kennedy freely created identities for himself, people always felt free to create Kennedys of their own. Creating identities on a daily basis, re-inventing oneself week in and week out, are some of the legacies that the Kennedy-era left us with. All the supermen of the new frontier came to all the supermarkets, and they stayed there shopping for new selves.
Part 1 is therefor about the 60s, about the promise, about the people that made the dream, and about the people who killed it. But the story now is not Kennedy in his time but how he lives in ours.
Part 2 (approximately 4 hours)
Sub-title: The Moment that Changed History
November 22, 1963. The Friday before Thanksgiving and all across the country Americans awoke in warm anticipation of the upcoming holiday. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis had been resolved a year before, the country had experienced a relative state of peace. Few Americans had even heard of Vietnam, and the phrases “terrorist” and “suicide bombing” were not yet in common use.
It was an era of innocence. Democracy and good had prevailed in Europe and Japan just fifteen years before. The blandness and inertia of the Eisenhower years have given way to the new frontier of a young and charismatic new president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who only recently had challenged his country to “send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth before the decade is out.”
But that innocence was shattered when shots rang out in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, shortly after 12:30 pm. In a matter of moments, the dreams of a nation turned into a nightmare that would affect an era and would ripple around the world. The assassination of JFK would become one of those rare benchmarks in time by which all else is measured. Yet, fifty years later there are more questions than answers, and myths and legends compete with reality in the search for truth.
Part 2 does not purport to solve the mystery, not even tries to solve it. The confusion and the controversy surrounding Kennedy’s death has been overwhelming, a veritable twilight zone of conspiracy theories, magic bullets, missing witnesses, conflicting testimonies, faked x-rays, and contradictory evidence. To navigate this murky landscape a guide is needed. This story is the best Shakespearian historical play one can find in our modern times.
“The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam.” J.G. Ballard
We use the JFK story as a jumping-board in telling the bigger picture, the story of a moment that changed history. We would like to break this moment into tiny facts, into pieces of information that has nothing to do with the actual assassination. It is as if the show is a detective novel that tells the story of Nov 22,1963, in great details, but never solve the murder mystery.
Take, for example, Abraham Zapruder who was filming the motorcade with an 8 mm movie camera; the film is silent, for there was no audio on home-movie cameras back then. Zapruder, a Dallas businessman, became one of the most important documentary film makers of the 20th century, by default. What’s is story?
Can a Russian-jewish immigrant who became an American manufacturer of woman’s clothing take for a moment center stage?
A text from an interview with Zapruder:
JAY WATSON (Station WFAA Dallas): […] And would you tell us your story please, sir? ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: I got out in, uh, about a half-hour earlier to get a good spot to shoot some pictures. And I found a spot, one of these concrete blocks they have down near that park, near the underpass. And I got on top there, there was another girl from my office, she was right behind me. And as I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this. Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn’t say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up [places fingers of right hand to right side of head in a narrow cone, over his right ear], all blood and everything, and I kept on shooting. That’s about all, I’m just sick, I can’t… WATSON: I think that pretty well expresses the entire feelings of the whole world. ZAPRUDER: Terrible, terrible. WATSON: You have the film in your camera, we’ll try to get… ZAPRUDER: Yes, I brought it on the studio, now. WATSON: We’ll try to get that processed and have it as soon as possible.
The camera was a Bell and Howell Zoomatic director Series Model 414 PD – top of the line when it was purchased in 1962.
The night after the assassination, Zapruder is said to have had a nightmare in which he saw a booth in Times Square advertising “See the President’s head explode!”. He determined that, while he was willing to make money from the film, he did not want the public to see the full horror of what he had seen. Therefore, his condition of the sale of the images to Life magazine was that frame 313, showing the fatal shot, would be withheld.
Zapruder’s story is just one example of the stories that can be extracted out of the assassination’s moment. Stories that can be expended into a full cycle of facts that tell the “play” of our time, of a period in history that still re-vibrate fifty years later. The official history precludes from its truths the most significant: moments of private reflection, moments of immediate choice. These moments become the center of our piece, the theatre of facts.
We will assemble the materials via extensive research following both a liner and associative methods of story telling, beginning from the facts related to the assassination’s moments and onto facts that will come our way and are not necessarily related to JFK’s death.
Take, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The connecting line is clear. Both American presidents, both killed while serving their nation. But the story of Lincoln then takes over – killed in a theatre by a famous Shakespearian actor of his time – and the new facts allow us to dive into a whole new play, a whole new story. One defining moment meets the other. The political play flies into another dimension.
The basic set-up will resemble a court hearing room. An open space where facts, ideas, testimonies and stories are being presented and told to the curious public.
(An image of possible set-up)
It will be modeled in part by the set-up of the Warren Commission, the official investigative committee for the assassination of JFK.
The rest of the set will be made up of card-board walls, similar to sets in live TV comedy sketches. The boards walls will come in and out of stage, each representing a different location.
Props and other items will be scatter all over the room in a manner similar to the exhibit techniques of the Warren Commission.