18.11.11 On the road again
Entering the US became an exercise in humiliation. Sep 11 gave Americans the “right” to treat everyone around the world as a potential terrorist, never mind if they come from friendly Europe and mean no harm.
J. Edgar Hoover did the same in the nineteen- twenties and thirties. Outraged by scattered bomb plots and shifting values, what seemed to him the moral chaos of modern life, Hoover sensed that Americans needed safety, or, at least, the illusion of safety, and he became the vessel of their protection, exercising and justifying, with ironclad rhetoric, his own dominance.
The obsession with keeping America safe reminds one of the good old days of the Cold War. Replace Communist with Terrorists and there you have it. Hoover is dead but his ideas are safe and kicking. (YW)
Weather conditions history
It’s a coincidence that made history. If the weather had been worse, the United States of America wouldn’t have to undergo one of the biggest tragedies in their history. If it had rained on Nov 22, 1963, Kennedy would have been forced to use a bubble top on his Lincoln convertible to be protected from raindrops. For sure, Jacqueline wouldn’t have liked it to get her famous pink dress wet on that day. Well, as her day ended she had lost her husband, America had lost their 35th president, and the pink dress had some blood stains on it. Unfortunately, the Texan weather is too good in November. It seems to be always good, never let’s you down, also not on November 19, 2011 as we walk out the Hyatt Regency. A huge building next to Reunion tower the name of which dates back to some French settlers in the 18th century who wanted to lead a simple life once they reached American shores. A story we heard from our cab driver who had brought us here the night before, after a tedious 18 hour trip from Vienna/Berlin. The talkative gave us some insight into how he sees the world: the occupy movement doesn’t really know what they want; the real estate bubble was a mistake; the mafia was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination. This is the reason why we came to Dallas: we want to understand how this city functioned back then, see with our own eyes what we have read in books, watched in documentaries about this day of 22 November 1963. Have a nice stay! says a woman with a broad smile when we arrive at the hotel late at night. Checking in, we get hotel rooms that face downtown, from our vantage point we can overlook Dealey Plaza and get a view on the Texas School Book Depository.
‚Have a nice day’, yells the same woman as we come out the hotel the next morning. We walk into a day with some grey clouds covering the sky of Dallas, that makes the moist air stick to our bodies. Indian summer smells sweet. In full gear with four cameras in different sizes in our bags we pass through the nearby triple underpass. This is where Elm, Main, and Commerce street merge underneath the train rails. This is where Kennedy’s open limousine sped up to bring the dying president and wounded Gouverneur Connally to the Parkland hospital, both in the arms of their beloved wives Jacqueline and Nelly. It smells of piss. Right on the other side of the underpass we cross the street to reach a little elevation on Dealy Plaza. (PS)
From the window of my hotel room I can see the Texas School Book Depository Building and Dealey Plaza, the site of JFK assassination. My jet lag keeps me awake and I take photos of the site. From time to time people are stepping into the road to take photos. They are, I assume, standing on the X – the exact point where Kennedy was shot. The road is open to traffic, so by standing on the X one risks his or her own life. But I get the fascination of stepping on the X, for a short moment you feel like JFK, you are reliving history.
(I wonder if someone died or got injured while stepping on the X, where can I find the info and why am I interested in it.)
Somehow we get into a discussion about economy, not the reason we are in Dallas. JFK is the reason and economy was the topic of our last show.
Like Europe, the American economy is just limping along. Many analysts casting about for an explanation of why this recovery has been so tepid have concluded that, as Paul Krugman has written, “it was debt what did it.” Between 2001 and 2007, Americans went on an incredible borrowing binge, nearly doubling their household debt. Now, the argument goes, consumers are focussed on paying off that debt instead of spending freely, and, as long as this process of ” deleveraging” continues, the economy is going to stay stuck in the doldrums. Debt, in the words of The Atlantic, is the recovery’s “silent assassin.”
And here you go, I managed to put economy and assassination together. The Americans are not only killing presidents, they also kill the recovery.
19.11.11 Dealey Plaza
As we step into the grassy knoll we meet the usual suspects. The assassination
fanatics, the conspiracy theorists, the memorabilia collectors. One of them is Robert J. Groden, photographic consultant to the House Select Committee on Assassination and technical adviser to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Groden has a full performance going on, his friend does the talking while he sells DVDs and other memorabilia items. He self-published a magazine titled JFK the case for conspiracy. The letter I in the conspiracy is replaced by an image of a bullet. It is all about underground imagery and graphic. (YW)
Being a small square with a curved arcade and a shallow pool, it’s nevertheless a national historic landmark since 1993. Strange sight: every spot looks smaller than we had expected it, projecting from the photos we have studied before. Someone has put up a banner on the lawn the south end of which is enclosed by a wooden fence. On the other side a parking lot. The orange banner says ‚grassy knoll’. We take the couple of steps that lead to the elevation of the lawn. From the small platform we reach on top, looking back down, we can clearly make out an ‚X’ marking the spot on Elm street where the shots hit the president’s car and fatally wounded Kennedy inside. A tourist with a blue shirt and baseball cap steps quickly on the road, halts at the cross, and lifts his arms, waving to his wife who takes a picture of him. As traffic picks up again he jumps off the road, and on the pavement next to the grassy knoll he looks over to his wife. He smiles. Mission accomplished. An American coming as close as possible to history and its marks. A simple cross on the pavement, strangely cruely run over by everyday traffic, marks the end of the great age of America that started with the murder of Abraham Lincoln, ironically enough. Lincoln could become the founding father of modern USA because he paid with his life for his belief and hope of a free America. He united the states and made them become strong and idealistic. Whereas by the death of the prodigal son Kennedy, hope for a better America was killed on the way to Stemmons Freeway. The Camelot years as many American historians call the 1000 days of presidency between 1961 and 1963 were over. What is left is the absence uncannily marked by a white cross painted on the pavement. The standstill of America in the years after Kennedy somehow resonate with the puncture of the cross, right here, where America political belief system was pierced through. At the JFK memorial some 300 meters downtown from the cross, they have used the same strategy of remembering, piecing together what has been lost forever: surrounded by four at least 5m high walls, there is a marble pedestal of 2×2 m in the middle, with Kennedy’s name engraved in golden letters on its side. Once a tourist or mourner would mount the pedestal, he becomes a sculputure that bears the name of the president: there is a little Jack in everyone of us, and there is everyone in Jack. The monument demands both a symbolic and factual stand-still by the mourner, the white cross on the site of the actual crime necessitates a sort of fugitive hopping movement since this spot is dangerous due to the traffic. In the short moments of posing, the tourist seems to say: There is still life in me, I am still moving, dancing on the cross where he was shot, x-ed out. I leave my mark in my personal photo album when I come home, my mark right at the mark of history.
Turning our attention back to the small platform where we are we behold a camping table with four men surrounding it. One of them stands next to a flip chart, laminated photographs in colour are pinned on it, depicting the stills of the moments before and after the shots on Kennedy. Behind him the facade of the Texas School Book Depository where the alleged killer Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired three shots on the motorcade on Nov 22, 1963. Alleged killer, since the man with the baton, late 50ies, dyed brown hair and glasses, doesn’t trust the official version. He grasps a microphone that is attached to a mobile p.a. Once in a while he picks a plastic folder from the table and show photos of the president’s open skull as it was photographed on the autopsy table in the hospital after his death. No, we are not allowed to film these photos. Due to their graphic content? No, because he is the only one who is in property of these copies and they shouldn’t be published or photographed. He holds away the file from our cameras, even though everyone who is dealing with Kennedy’s assassination is familiar with the autopsy photos. But that’s not the point why doesn’t want to show the pics to the camera eye. The man apparently wants to create eye witnesses who pass on information in the way rumours do, from mouth to ear. The eye witness turns events into language, creates a discourse rather than a document. The witness creates rumours, as he describes what he has seen. And rumours multiply which is in the interest of these four men as they don’t believe the offical version of Kennedy’s assassination.
The official version of Kennedy’s assassination sees only one killer who shot three times from the 6th floor of the nearby Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald. Period. Yet the mix of historic innuendos, suspicious facts, sleazy investigation and a deep rooted mistrust into authorities lead to many different versions of this event. And here is the access point of our four men on this platform. Opposing the theory of the lone gunman, legions of other theories flourished since Kennedy’s death on 22 November 1963. Shelf-miles of books, movies, articles have been published and uttered in the meantime. Our four men on the platform of Dealey Plaza present their theory: Kennedy was shot due to a conspiracy, involving some agents of the secret service one of which has fired a shot from behind the fence of the grassy knoll. The man with the glasses looks meaningfully at the old elm tree that offers his century old bark to a family of squirrels that is chasing each other up and down the tree. If this tree could speak now. So Kennedy is the victim of a „coup d’etat“, the man pauses and looks around. And since there hasn’t found any real evidence, hard facts for this allegation, this is were the other men come into play. One of them silent as the elm tree sitting behind the camping table, presenting selected material on the circumstances of the assassination, mostly videos. This man, says the moderator with his microphone, discloses the secrets of the matter, he can provide more than just innuendo, he was counselling Oliver Stone for his infamous JFK feature in 1991. Stone’s movie stirred up the case after it was officially closed in 1988 by taking on one of the conspiracy theories including a plot by American secret service. And our man behind the table who still doesn’t say a word was also starring in Stone’s movie, playing a small (mute?) role as member of law enforcement. The equation: if Oliver Stone believes him, there is no reason not to trust his point of view. In order to give his argument another backup, the moderator points at two older men who somehow loiter next to the table. These gentlemen are real eye witnesses, who were right where we are now, watching with their own eyes, listening with their own ears how the president was shot. But neither of them says a single word. Mutes? So we offer to one of them 20 Dollars and arrange an interview in the following days. We don’t have to set the exact time yet since the men are anyway on the grassy knoll, selling videos and their life stories. This is what these men apparently do as a living these days, delivering their personal version of an event that has seen more pieces of interpretation than any other historic event in the 2nd half of the 20th century. They try to turn their point of view into profit, and it seems as if the whole theatre of facts here is covered by another primal American idea: the first amendment of the American constitution grants for the freedom of press and „right to peaceably to assemble“. A right that apparently allows them to be at a protected historic site and turn their private memoires into a commodity. And this is why one cannot help thinking that these four men rip off tourists: taking advantage of their lust for the spectacular, they offer a bit of the president’s blood and brain on the secret photo of Kennedy’s skull, invite for some tears of nostalgia, and provide suspense by a plot that could have been written by Shakespeare.
The whole scene looks anyhow like a theatrical act, performing a contemporary version of a 19th century ‚medicine show’. But instead of using travelling horses and a wagon back then, the four men have settled down with a mobile table and p.a.; the trick is somehow the same: An eloquent moderator attracts attention of the passers-by with some revealingly new insight into the secrets of life, offering remedy to those who suffer from pain. In the contemporary version, remedy equals answers to painstaking questions. To prove that his drug is effective he shows patients who have been cured after using the respective drug. In the contemporary version, it’s the eye witness who can prove that the answers on painstaking questions are backed up by the truth. And then there is the third, most important party that sells the drug to the people. In our case, it’s the silent man behind the table who puts down the truth in words and videos. History becomes an act performed by histrionics who offer placebos of words and visuals, allegedly useless drugs that are supposed to enhance cultural memory but instead draw another veil over what they loudly announce as drawing back the curtain. But maybe the placebo effect kicks in in an unexpected manner.
As we leave the scene, our histrionics welcome a new group of assassination tourists with exactly the same words we were approached. Our moderator knows his lines very well, he IS a professional. (ps)
19.11.11 The Sixth Floor Museum
Lee Harvey Oswald apparently shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Book Depository.
The six floor is now a museum about the shooting. The idea is simple – pay 13.5$ and you can pick through the window into the street and the famous X. The visitor is turned into an assassin for a short moment, he or she are afforded the Oswald point of view. It is as if the visitors are asked to form an opinion, is it possible to kill someone from up here?
I wanted to take a photo, to shoot a video, from the window but it is forbidden. The museum has a copyright on the window and Oswald’s point of view and they are not going to allowed any one to post it on the web for everyone to see. It is one expensive piece of real estate. (YW)
So we move on to the Texas School Book Depository. A sign at the glass door indicates: no shooting whatsoever, neither photographs, nor guns. Makes sense for The 6th Floor museum that commemorates the shooting of the 35th president. As we enter we receive a headset for the audiotour. Students from Mexico, American tourists flood the museum aisles, following through the instructions of the voice coming from the headset. We pass by movable walls with texts and photos documents that pretty much cover the whole story of Kennedy travelling to Dallas: the political motivation, the route, what Jackie was wearing, the circumstances of its murder, the subsequent investigations, speculations, federal commissions; a panel on Lee H. Oswald who was working in the School Book Depository at this time. They even have several models of film cameras on display that have been used by Moorman, Nix, Zapruder, all those bystanders who filmed the assassination from their respective spots. The privately funded museum shows a well edited version of those amateur films, reconstructing the time line of the motorcade, coming from the airport to Dealey Plaza, ending with… What? They stop the clip mix right before the famous Zapruder frame 313? Abraham Zapruder was a Jewish business man selling ladies clothes, living in Dallas. On this very day he went to Dealey Plaza to see the President. A once in a lifetime opportunity as his assistant pointed out who convinced him to drive back to his apartment to pick up his amateur camera to film the president. Since there were too many people in the streets cheering the president he found a spot at Dealey Plaza from where he would have a good view on the president’s motorcade passing by on Elm Street. Since he was afraid of height, his assistant held him around his waist as he was standing on a ledge of the stone wall. And as the president’s motorcade turned slowly into Elm Street, Zapruder held up his camera and started filming. He didn’t know by then that he was to produce the most important and famous document of the assassination: The Zapruder film actually shows how Kennedy was fatally wounded by a bullet ripping apart Kennedy’s skull. But as a matter of fact, this part of the video is not shown in the museum. Due to respect to the president, his family, to America? Due to its graphic content? The film document gives away another, more important information: what the film shows from frame 313 on is how Kennedy’s head is pushed backwards due to the impact of the fatal shot. Backwards. This means that a bullet must have hit him coming from the front and thus from somewhere else than the book depository where Oswald was allegedly shooting the president from behind. If the museum shows the video until the end, including the sequence after frame 313, they would have to explain why the head is tilted back. As a consequence, they would have to dispute the fact that Oswald was the lone killer who shot from the 6th floor. So how can a museum that is so diligent when it comes to fact finding not show the whole movie? Because they have to maintain a point of view that favours the idea of Oswald being the main suspect in order to legitimate their own existence.
It’s not permitted to take pictures on the floor. Due to copyright infringement since the objects and photographs belong to companies or legal persons, says Liza from the museum. She says this with a smile as if this was self-understood. No photos neither from the objects nor from the 6th floor itself. Or from the spot from where Oswald is said to have shot at the president. The museum has constructed a glass cage to seal this area off for the public. Inside the glass tank they have put card board boxes the way the police is said to have found them after they have arrested Oswald. Oswald allegedly hid behind a stack of boxes and placed four of them next to the window so that he could put his rifle onto them in order to aim better. This is what this arrangement’s logic suggests at least. Since everything about the assassination is about traces that are undiscoverable, here at least, on the 6th floor, the assassin has left something posterity can behold. It’s with his own hands the assassin created his hideout and sniper’s nest as if Oswald had left the crime scene a few seconds ago. The cage with the boxes proposes an act of authenticity that is not only dubious, but shows a twisted understanding of what a fact is. The cage pretends transparency of history by the means of scenography. It wants to authenticate where there is a lack of authenticity. It wants to give immediate insight in the scene where there is no other coverage documenting what really has happened. The cage wants to overwhelm the beholder by sealing the scene off for the public as if the beholder would look at a precious relic: this is how it WAS instead this is how it COULD HAVE BEEN. A
wrong understanding of immediacy comes into play. An immediacy that proposes facts which are none, that proposes history which is only a reenactment, that proposes accuracy of events which only can be speculated upon. History doesn’t speak here, it’s the marketing department of the museum that talks loud. The assignment of a museum is to beware, store, and take care of artifacts.
Giving access to the telling document in the context of its time and preserving its accessibility. In such a sense, the documents, photos, videos or sound files presented to the public become accounts of what has happened, they are media from their respective points of view, they mediate, transport history, but don’t translate it. Even though most of the documents on display are not originals, being copies, they nevertheless keep their basic function of exemplification. In such a way they are time witnesses for they both witness a certain sequence of time and temporalize the witness, give him a context that is always relational to the standards of a given perception of the time he comes from. The post mortem arrangement of the card board boxes in the aquarium is not doing that. The aquarium tanks the events as the arrangement is ahistorical; as it attempts to freeze the situation of the murder, to bring the moment to a standstill by turning the situation into a moment of eternity, as it attempts to recreate the origo of the moment itself to be taken for the original, as it places the beholder both inside and outside the scene without granting him to see what the sniper might have seen, the arrangement of boxes fabricates an event that turns the beholder into an eye witness of second degree. The second degree witness hasn’t seen anything real really, it’s rather hearsay, rumours, visual Chinese whispers he is presented, and yet he thinks he has witnessed the ‚real thing’ since the scenography suggests realistic immediacy. Staging history theatricalizes facts in such a way that the spectator can’t develop a point of view about what was happening. He is turned rather into a consumer of history, eat it, chew and swallow it the way it was cooked right before your eyes. (PS)
19.11.11 The Press
On the seventh floor of the Sixth Floor Museum we attend a movie screening. The world premiere of the Zapruder & Stolley: Witness to an Assassination. It is basically the story of how Life magazine purchased the Zapruder 8mm film. After the screening we are treated to a Q and A with Stolley himself. An interesting man whose name Dick Stolley sounds like it was taken from a detective novel about an investigative journalist. Stolley tells the story about how he convinced Zapruder to sell him the film for 50.000$, and how he outbid the other members of the press. You get the point, you probably have seen it in too many Hollywood movies. The hard working journalist, the scoop, the victory of being the first to publish. Stolley became later the editor of People magazine. For me it is the story in a nutshell – Kennedy started the age of celebrity, Stolley made a career out of our interest in the rich and famous, Zapruder and his family made a lot of money (more than 16 million dollars) from the film, everybody is happy.
Somehow it is also the story of our show. The story behind the story behind the story.
19.11.11 Assassination Nerds
We move on to the Adolphus hotel, the site of the JFK Lancer – the annual international conference on the assassination of president Kennedy.
Basically it is the same as the Star Wars convention with JFK’s buffs. My mother would say: what a bunch of weirdos. But I feel part of them, after all I flew all the way from Vienna to be part of the JFK experience. I can claim to be an artist, it is all research, but who are we kidding, I’m just as weird as them.
We meet Jim Marrs, the father of all conspiracy theories. Marrs can put together a sentence that starts with JFK, move on to Sep 11 and end with aliens on Earth; and than for good measure add the latests economic crisis. He is a charming and lovely man, a true cowboy. Marrs is kind enough to give us a short interview, for us it is like hitting the jackpot. In the world of JFK assassination research Marrs is a true celebrity.
The talks in the conference range from “the girl in the stairs” to “escape from the elevator” to “spy games in Mexico City”. Most of the people who attended the conference have a day job, the assassination is just their hobby, an expensive hobby. In the presence of people who share the same fascination as them they all looked very happy and eager to talk, for them it is the party of the year.
20.11.11 Ken M. Holmes, Jr.
Ken is a real Dallas “boy”. He is our tour guide. For about 2 hours Ken drives us around Dallas demonstrating his knowledge of the Kennedy assassination. He is a natural born storyteller. As we drive with him around Dallas I’m starting to feel like I’m part of a road movie, a detective drama, a TV documentary of the week. While we stay inside the car Ken talks about the buildings and houses we see through the car’s tinted windows. With us in the car an old couple from California, real buffs, they argue with Ken about this or that detail and Ken is not happy. This is his car, his tour, his city, his story. But they are the costumers so they are right and Ken has to swallow his pride and keep on driving on the Oswald route of self destruction.
21.11.11 The quiet policeman
Back to the grassy knoll. We are interviewing an assortment of conspiracy theories buffs. Some of them are there to make money, selling home made DVDs, photos and self published books and magazines. Others just want to tell their story, to talk. There is something Chekhovian about the situation, about the people who want to communicate, to make a human connection. One of these people is a retired policeman who goes by the name Robert A. Rowe. A soft spoken man who happened to be in the police station when Ruby shot Oswald. He tells us the story of Jack Ruby and Dallas 1963. The night club, the girls, the friendly relationship between the sleazy Ruby and the policemen. Mr Rowe doesn’t want to speculate on any conspiracy theories, he just wants to tell his story. He is an eyewitness to history, not a historian. He is retired now, an old man who can sit at home and watch TV or come to the grassy knoll and meet some people, get some attention, be a hero for a moment. Besides it is warm outside and the air is fresh and the old story about Ruby and the gang is still something people want to hear.
21.11.11 The Taxi Driver
We decided to take a taxi and drive out to Oswald territories. We convince Abu to drive us around. Abu wants 100$, we settle on 60$. Abu is originally from Africa, but he lives in the US for a long time. Our first stop is Oswald’s old boarding home. I run around with a Kennedy mask and Abu finds all of it funny and exciting. It is definitely a new experience for him, when was the last time he drove around Dallas with performance artists from Europe? He asks me for an explanation, for a meaning. What are we doing?
And why am I running around with a funny mask in the poor streets of a poor district of Dallas? I don’t have a good answer, it is too early in the process to make sense. I dream of Kennedy revisiting Oswald but I don’t think Abu will understand the point I’m trying to make. You know, the mask, the ghost of JFK walking in the streets of Dallas looking for the answer, searching for the WHY?
But we have fun and Abu is patient with us and with our stories. When he drops us in our hotel, he gives me his card, just in case we need him once more. Is it only a money issue or did Abu have fun with us?
21.11.11 The Lefty Couple
We met them in the tour with Ken. They knew a lot about the case so we asked them for an interview. They are Bev Sadowski and Emerson Stocks. I don’t make things up. We meet at the lobby of the Adolphus hotel, a nice hotel that knew better days. They are there for the conference and to celebrate JFK’s life and legacies. They are, she especially, big fans of Kennedy. They are a dying breed, American leftists who are not afraid to call themselves socialists. Emerson, over 70 I think, is wearing a T-shirt with the Marx Brothers and Karl Marx, he is a Marxist. We talk about the 60s, about the hope and the disappointment they feel toward Obama. We talk about how they went out and shot a watermelon in order to examine the Oswald shooting probability. We talk about the obsession with JFK’s murder and about California. He is a scientist, still working. She is a retired librarian. I wish I had an uncle and aunt like them. After the interview we go together to a bar for beer and burgers. We talk, off the record, about families and houses and money, just like any other good Marxists.
22.11.11 The Day
Back to the grassy knoll. The commemoration ceremony is about to begin. This the day, November 22, 48 years ago, 12.30 pm, in this place, a president was shot. We film, we interview, we mingle, we became part of the JFK aficionados. We start to know people, they heard about us, the people from Austria. We interview two old men, they were there in 1963, they saw it all. We interview people who became interested because they couldn’t believe the official version. We talked to everyone that was willing to talk to us. The ceremony is organized by private people, they put their own money and time into it. There is no one representing the government and no one from any official institution. The JFK aficionados are mainly old, left over from another time. Suddenly the young people appear, they are from occupy Dallas. And for a moment the 60s find 2011. According to them nothing changed, it is still the same old battle. Long live Kennedy!
22.11.11 Mama’s daughter’s dinner
Nothing to do with JFK. We met two nice local artists in the ceremony and they offered to show us around. They took us to eat a real Texan meal in a real Texan diner. Something named chicken steak something…the old waitress looked like Elvis and the all experience felt authentic and fake at the same time. Then we drove around and talked and toured the rich neighborhood of Dallas. They were kind enough to take us to the historic Texas Theatre and then stayed with us for a beer. It is the only non-JFK activity we had in Dallas. (YW)
22.11.11 The Texas theatre
After allegedly murdering both president Kennedy and a police man named J.D. Tippit, Lee Harvey Oswald went to see a film. It was the local Texas Theatre where he was arrested and charged later that day with the killing. The Texas theatre, a run down establishment, became a historic site, a location. Two movies played that day in the theatre, Cry of Battle and War is Hell. One can hardly think of a more appropriate title. I would think that if you murdered the president and a police man within couple of hours you should go and a see a comedy, a really funny one, but Oswald was a strange man. The movie theatre is managed now by a bunch of young movie buffs and run as an alternative venue, horror flicks, B movies, that sort of stuff. On Nov 22 they ran a Kennedy/Oswald special, the original program from 48 years ago. The problem is that War is Hell did not survive the hellish passing of time, only a short reel exists, and it was played on a loop for around 2 hours, a creepy experience. Oswald’s seat, the one that he sat on that day, was marked with an A4 sheet of paper. Oswald’s spirit was with us while we watched the terrible film Cry of Battle, good for him for being arrested before needing to sit through this Hollywood junk.
After Cry we stayed and watched Rush to Judgment, a wonderful documentary film about Oswald and the Warren Commission, made by a lawyer Oswald’s mom hired to prove her son’s innocence. You can watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jBBqjT5FuI&feature=related . That movie by the way was not part of the program in 1963; so the ghost on Oswald’s seat had a chance to see it for the first time, but maybe the ghost knew all the details anyway. (YW)
Cry of Battle
We are in the foyer of the recently reopened Texas Theatre. This is the cinema where Oswald was arrested by the police in 1963. After killing police officer J.D. Tippit and the President of the United States, he is said to have entered the show room of the cinema, take a seat, and watch the feature ‚Cry of Battle’.
On 22 November 2011, the theatre presents the movies that were screened on the same day in 1963. With us in the lobby two Dallas-based film makers, Steve and Marc whom we have met at Dealey Plaza earlier today. They have been so kind and generous to show us around, give us a tour through some districts of Dallas we haven’t been visiting so far. Both of them were participating as photo experts in a Discovery Channel reconstruction of Kennedy’s assassination a couple of years ago. Recalling their photo analysis, Oswald couldn’t have conducted the assassination of JFK, period. Since Steve knows one of the new owners of the Texas Theatre he wants to help us to convince him of letting us shoot inside the movie theatre without having to pay a location fee of 400 $. Which would be a bit too much for our taste and wallet, as we don’t want to be ripped off. We settle an agreement that we can take photographs – for free.
We only have to pay a symbolic contribution of 1 $ for ‚Cry Of Battle’ which back then cost 75 cents, and take a seat in the last row. The auditorium holds places for appr. 300 visitors, yet today only some 20 spectators show up. When Oswald enters the auditorium on 22 Nov 1963, the film is already playing for about an hour. He takes a seat three rows from the back, four seats from the left. Why would he enter the theatre? To win time until the first agitation blows over? Does he have a secret meeting with a helper, maybe a CIA agent? The owners of the cinema have marked Oswald’s seat, attached a sign on the back rest. The guy who permits us to take picture, a young, excited man in a business suit, runs around agitatedly to welcome some of the Oswald buffs. We have seen quite some of them during the conference and the memorial service at Dealey Plaza we have attended in the morning. One of them takes a seat right next to the empty Oswald seat, embraces the chair as if Oswald were sitting in it and has a friend taking a picture of himself. Yet, nobody dares to sit on Oswald’s chair though, nobody wants to take on his point of view. In an astonishing opposition to the behaviour visitors exhibit on the X on Elm Street that represents the spot John F. Kennedy was fatally hit by gun shots. At Dealey Plaza, a lot of people enjoy placing themselves right on the spot.
Nobody wants to look with Oswald’s eyes, but rather wants to identify himself with the object of what Oswald beholds. Nobody wants to be at the spot from which the gaze is projected, but rather desires to be in the focus of the beheld object. If one indulges in a feminist film theoretical thought in this case, the assassin Oswald fulfills the role of the male spectator who remains invisible, who aims at the feminine object (Kennedy) from the dark. The observer is obscene = off stage, a Peeping Tom who watches in a stealth mode through his rifle scope. Whereas the object of desire is depicted in full light, selling out to the punters, rendered desireable for this fact. The object that is created through this scope is both visible for the privileged, obscene eye of the male (assassin) and overall visible (the other meaning of obscene) for everyone. Kennedy, the feminized victim (if one wants to follow this thought to the end), sits in an open car, presents himself in the most palpable scene possible. The car, the machine moves him, a kinky extension of his body, an application that grants exposure of power and the power of exposure. An overexposed body with an obscenely open orifice as he cheers to the crowds, waving, welcoming the public to stare at him.
From our last row seats, we stare at the movie and watch with Oswald over Oswald’s absent shoulder. ‚We take a shot at the film’, I think to myself. To take a shot like Oswald did; American English has an uncanny proximity to military rhetorics. The characters in the movie take a lot of shots. It is about a spoiled son of a wealthy businessman during world war II who finds himself involved in the guerrilla movement fighting against the Japanese, and finds romance and adventure. Romance equals the conquest of submissive women; adventure means shooting Japanese, both taught to him by a macho maverick. Don Delillo says in his book LIBRA on Oswald correspondingly that these female characters were invented to please the lonesome male afternoon cinema goer. They were designed to show off their legs, physical attraction and provide pleasure for the viewers. Those characters, oversized and in full light projected on the cinema screen are in the crossline of the viewers’ attention.
Is Oswald capable to watch what’s going on in the movie, right in front of him? Is he attracted to the women on the screen after all, as are the soldiers in the movie? Does he identify with the young hero who eventually wins the girl over? What do the sniper’s eyes see, which are the eyes of the ultimate male, looking, acting in the dark, deciding in the dark, turning the world into a cinema auditorium packed with present or absent snipers aiming at the object of their desires?
The fact that nobody wants to sit in Oswald’s chair is maybe driven by the same impulses that prevent the visitor of Texas School Book Depository to go to the spot from where Oswald is said to have fired his shots: because the nature of that scene is not just cruel, or graphic, it’s rather pornographic. For isn’t it true that the president’s body is penetrated by at least three bullets which enter his body, leave entrance and exit holes? Rendering the presidential body into both a horrific and an ‚orific’ object where the horror of the shooting is doubled by turning Kennedy into a feminized body with several gaping openings? And all those who stand on the X, having their bodies taped by video cameras, don’t they turn their videos into X-movies by demarcating the disrobing uncovering of the President? (ps)
23.11.11 The Mask
Our last working day in Dallas. We decide to shoot some footage in Kennedy’s memorial and along the last stretch of road his limousine drove. A man that happens to see us asks if we are making guerilla cinema, we are not. I wear a dark suit and a Kennedy mask and walk and run along the grassy knoll risking my life on a busy street. I’m full of fear that the police will come and arrest me. Believe me you don’t want to mess around with the Texas police. It is just before the TanksGiving holidays so the city is full of American tourists and they all seem to be there while we are shooting. Oops, shooting is a dangerous word in this part of Dallas. No one, by the way, recognize the mask as Kennedy’s face, Ronald Reagan is the more popular choice. I run under the underpass pretending to be the wounded Kennedy and some ne later tells me that he disapprove, that what I do is disrespectful to the president. Oh well, I did some more disrespectful things in my life, I can live with that.
It’s a wrap, Dallas here we go… (YW)