BY BRUCE JENKINS
published in Masterpieces of Modernist Cinema (2006)
All of us, even when we think we have noted every tiny detail, resort to set pieces which have already been staged often enough by others. We try to reproduce the reality; but the harder we try, the more we find the pictures that make up the stock-in-trade of the spectacle of history forcing themselves upon us...
- W. G. Sebald
Every anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 draws upon a painful cache of moving image materials that were produced before, during, and after what film critic Jim Hoberman has characterized as Kennedy's "verite presidency." His emergence as the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1960 had been the subject of Robert Drew's landmark cinema-verite documentary Primary (1960), which while devoting equal time to Kennedy rival Hubert Humphrey, captured the future president's remarkable mastery of the televisual codes. More significant in terms of the election were the four televised debates between Kennedy and his Republican opponent Richard Nixon. After the election, documentary producer Drew twice revisited Kennedy to record a typical workday in the Oval Office for Bell & Howell Close-Up! (1961) and a year later to capture the President and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, feverishly responding to a civil rights crisis triggered by Alabama governor George Wallace's stance against desegregation of the state university. In between these productions, there were dozens of "live" televised press conferences staged by White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger as well as the First Lady's celebrated television special, A Tour of the White House (1962), which was broadcast on all three networks and seen by some 46 million viewers.
Kennedy's presidency and his "New Frontier" agenda were characterized by supporters as a "Camelot" (after the hit Lerner and Lowe musical that had opened on Broadway a month before the inauguration), a "world governed by acts of chivalry, trust, passionate idealism, and romance." The youngest President in history, the forty-three-year-old Kennedy had replaced the septagenerian Eisenhower and confirmed in his inaugural address that "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans." Despite the inspired rhetoric and the new president's call to activism, these were dangerous times. The failed Cuban invasion in April 1961 at: the Bay of Pigs heightened lingering Cold War tensions, which flared up into international proportions with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. There were rising tensions over civil rights as well as growing student movement that would soon shift its focus from "free speech" to concern over the administration's expansion of the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia by deploying military advisors to South Vietnam.
For an up-and-coming Bay Area artist named Bruce Conner, the roiling geopolitical tensions were troubling signs of an imminent conflict between the East and the West. According to curator Joan Rothfuss, "At various moments of his life, when the weight of art history, or language, or some other delimiting system has become cumbersome, he has managed to vanish almost completely from view." In this case, Conner's vanishing act was precipitated in part by what curator Peter Boswell described as the artist's "desire to escape the paranoid Cold War mentality he was convinced would result in nuclear holocaust." Conner and his wife Jean left San Francisco in 1961 for Mexico, where he decamped in search of a safe have as well as spiritual and physical renewal. During this period of self-exile, Conner create a new body of collages and assemblages, but financial difficulties and the birth of the couple's son Robert cut short their Mexican sojourn. In the fall of 1963, Bruce Conner had returned to the U.S. and was living in Brookline, Massachusetts. Less than a week after the artist turned thirty in November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and the Conners joined much of their fellow countrymen in mourning.
As an artistic response to the tragedy, Conner began work on a film in the days immediately following the Kennedy assassination. At that time, the family was living just a few blocks from the birthplace of the late president, and Conner planned to remain in the area for a year specifically to produce his own report of the tragedy: "I decided then that I would dedicate myself to recording what had happened and what would happen in Brookline." But in a reversal that initiated a sequence of setbacks and necessary alterations to his plans for REPORT (1963-1967), Kennedy's burial-originally planned for the reserved plot in Brookline where his children were interred-was moved several hundred miles away to Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.
Conner revised his plan to document the local response in Brookline and decided instead to make the film using footage from television coverage of the arrival in Dallas, the motorcade trip, the assassination, and events of the ensuing days in Dallas and Washington, D. C. The commercial broadcast companies that owned this material, however, were hostile to his requests; moreover, the clearest moving-image record of the actual event, the so-called Zapruder film-silent home-movie footage shot by a local businessman who was stationed along the parade route adjacent to the Texas School Book Depository building-had been purchased outright by Life Magazine and then confiscated by the government. Thus once again, as he had been forced to do in making A MOVIE five years earlier, Conner began creating his "report" with stock footage. REPORT was worked, reworked, and reworked again by Conner for more than three years, and he created eight different versions of the film. As the artist confessed in 1968 at a session devoted to his work at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, "I was obsessed .... I didn't want to stop the changes." It was in the end less a question of getting it right than of finally accepting the original intention of the project: coming to terms with President Kennedy's death.
If Conner's first film A MOVIE had captured the zeitgeist of Eisenhower America, REPORT presented a painful chronicle of the Kennedy's New Frontier. As in nearly all of his work, the finished film bore not only the marks of the original vision that inspired Conner to the project, but signs of the economic realities he faced in its production. The film was conceived by Conner, as its title suggests, to serve as a record of the life and, most especially, the tragic death of John F. Kennedy. Just as his earlier film, A MOVIE, was to have incorporated material from a variety of feature films (King Kong, one of Von Sternberg's films with Marlene Dietrich), REPORT was to have made use of a wide range of archival footage, broadcast news coverage, and documentary materials that Conner himself would produce. Working with far more meager materials, the film would occupy the artist for nearly four years, a particularly volatile period in Conner's life during which he would meet the influential Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp, relocate country-cross back to the Bay Area, and commit another artistic vanishing act by ceasing to make films altogether.
The making of illusions which flood our experience has become the business of America.
- Daniel Boorstin
While the America to which the Conners returned in 1962 had yet to be destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, many of the other conditions that had precipitated Conner's self-exile and journey to Mexico were reaching a critical point. The market orientation of the art world-another aspect of American life that the artist had found both repellant and dangerous-had continued apace. Conner's multiple responses to this situation would became integral to both his art and his life. While he remained unaffiliated with the various anti-art movements that were emerging both in this country and abroad, the tactics that Conner deployed were often consonant with the critical prankishness of the artists associated with the Viennese Actionists, the Letterists and Situationists in France, and the various international incarnations of the Fluxus group. Conner decided to end his work in assemblage because he no longer wanted "to glue the world down," and in one celebrated incident, he gave a box of loose objects to Charles Alan, his dealer, and proposed allowing gallery visitors to arrange and rearrange the pieces for his gallery show.
While Conner's disenchantment with the fixity of his assemblage works led to the abandonment of an art form in which he had already gained critical recognition, he had a longstanding antipathy to the notion of a signature style as well as to one of its corollaries, the fetishized valued of an artist's signed work. Already in the late 1950s, Conner had relocated his signature to the reverse side of his work, and when confronted by the displeasure of his New York dealer, he compromised by using a nearly microscopic script to sign his pieces. By 1960 he simply stopped signing his art works, and further undercut his place within the star system of then-contemporary art by refusing to have a recognizable photograph taken of him. This in turn allowed Conner to deploy doubles, who served as stand-ins for the artist at lectures and presentations. A photograph in the San Francisco Examiner accompanying the review of Conner's solo exhibition at the Batman Gallery in the summer of 1964, for example, featured a portrait in which a Conner stand-in (Harold La Vigne) poses in front of a Conner artwork. Another double, a Harvard undergraduate art student named Henry Moss, appeared as "Bruce Conner" on a panel at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and later conducted a lecture-screening at a venue in Worchester, Massachusetts.
It was during this period in which Conner focused a measure of his creative talents upon modes of resistance to the dictates of art-world institutions that he personally encountered modern art's most celebrated rebel, Marcel Duchamp. In the fateful fall of 1963, a half-century after the celebrated 1913 Armory Show in New York, Conner attended a talk by the venerable artist at Brandeis University. While listening in the audience during the lecture, Conner began winding string around a glass-and-metal cigarette box he had brought that contained several small objects including the unused rubber signature stamp that he had given his dealer for "signing" his unsigned art works. As Conner recalled years later, "I wondered what it was that I was doing there with that box, and I realized that I had wanted to give the box to Marcel Duchamp." The work, which came to known as THE MARCEL DUCHAMP TRAVELING BOX, both referenced materials associated with Duchamp in its use of glass and string, and the structure of a seminal work by the older artist, the semi-readymade assemblage With Hidden Noise (1916), which consisted of a ball of twine and and bolted brass plates encasing an unidentified object.
Conner's connection to Duchamp predated his attendance at the Brandeis lecture. Like many artists of his generation, he had discovered Duchamp through art book illustrations in the late 1940s. In one of the first major group exhibitions, the Museum of Modern Art's "The Art of Assemblage," Conner was one of several younger artists in the survey that also embraced the work of Duchamp. As Joan Rothfuss noted, this was a perfect context for Conner to have "discovered a number of correspondences between their practices (an interest in humor and wordplay, the employment of alter egos, the exploration of many media)." For Conner, however, the experience had the reverse effect. As he later reflected, "Duchamp, by placing his name on something, immediately created the assumption that if was ART. My view was almost opposite .... if my name was on something I did not consider it art." Nevertheless, Conner approached his New York gallery with a plan for a Conner/Duchamp exhibition (never realized), journeyed out to Brandeis for Duchamp's lecture, and gave the artist an important piece from his arsenal of anti-art strategies and devices, in the form of a rectified readymade.
The day after Marcel Duchamp's lecture at Brandeis, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and in response, Bruce Conner began work on a new film.
To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.
- Marcel Duchamp
The film that we know as REPORT was the eighth and final version, which Conner completed and released in 1967, a moment where he initiated another vanishing act by ceasing to make films. The film is divided into two unequal parts, a longer, first section which Conner has called "the death of Kennedy" and an "epilogue" that imaginatively unpacks the Kennedy myth. That first part of REPORT vividly recreates the assassination as a live event through Conner's extensive use of remote radio transmissions produced by a local Dallas station covering the arrival of the President and First Lady, the progress of the motorcade trip from Love Field to the Trade Mart downtown, and the tragic detour to Parkland Hospital. Given the paucity of the available imagery of the events that transpired, Conner fabricates an image track out of the fragments of the paltry documentary footage of the assassination available to him and combines it with the detritus of various kinds of film leader.
REPORT starts in silence with a piece of newsreel footage of the presidential limousine approaching the camera, which pans to show the First Lady waving toward it and the President shielding his eyes from the sun and beginning to wave. As the camera completes its movement and a second limousine comes into view, the soundtrack commences with street noises and the electronic hum of a radio transmission, followed by the voice of a reporter who has been tracking the progress of the Presidential motorcade. Conner repeats the opening image of the passing limousines, and in a moment reminiscent of the dramatic breaks in A MOVIE, the screen goes blank for a second. As a portion of the opening shot is repeated, the reporter nervously interjects, "It appears that something has gone wrong." Conner twice inverts the limousine footage, which shifts the image left to right, and the reporter's voice now confirms that "something has happened in the motorcade route."
The tragedy that begins to unfold on the soundtrack through the reports of the radio station's mobile units is accompanied on screen by a montage of film leader materials (frames with the text "HEAD," "PICTURE"), followed by clear leader that gradually begins to flicker as Conner intercuts black leader. Just as in those horror films where the monster remains offscreen and viewers are left to conjure up its unseen hideousness, this imageless passage elicits from each viewer scenes of bloodshed, hysteria, and despair. Meanwhile, the rate of flicker begins to decelerate-shifting from its most kinetic and stroboscopic as the reporter from "Mobile Unit 6" races to Parkland Hospital-to infrequent flashes, finally fading to darkness as the reporter arrives and is barred entry to the hospital. An image returns as the radio report switches to "Mobile Unit 4" at the Texas School Book Depository, which Conner represents through the repetition of the now-famous image of a federal agent holding Oswald's mailorder bolt action rifle above his head and walking past a crush of police and reporters. As the radio transmission shifts back to the hospital for the grim details, Conner flash-forwards to an image of the First Lady attempting to open the door of an ambulance carrying the President's body.
The opening image of the film returns as the radio begins to transmit eyewitness accounts of the shooting, with one caller movingly describing the impact of the two shots that he witnessed before fleeing with his five-year old son. The gathering of information continues as the station reports (over the clatter of teletype machines) the account of a state representative who was "three cars behind" and heard "three distinct shots." In one of the most celebrated moments in the film, Conner finds a visual correlate for this fact-finding activity by cutting to countdown leader, which here mimes both the statistical bent of the nascent investigation and ticks off the final moments to the eventual pronouncement of the President's death. For Conner, the death of the President marked the birth of the mythic JFK. As the countdown leader continues, it now serves to mark the start of the film's critical concluding section.
For the "epilogue" Conner again utilizes a radio broadcast, but in a sonic flashback he shifts its time frame back to a point earlier in the day, with coverage of the preparations at the Trade Mart and the arrival of Air Force One at Love Air Field. Expanding upon the inherent subjectivity of the flashback structure itself (bordering, as it does in the Hollywood canon, on dreams and hallucinations), he assembles wide-ranging footage of the Kennedy inauguration two-and-a-half years earlier, fragments of Kennedy-family homemovie footage, as well as a thoroughly heterogeneous array of stock footage from educational films, travelogues, newsreels, television commercials, and horror movies. It is here that Conner begins to address what he felt was "the exploitation of [Kennedy's) death, all the grotesque and sacrilegious and immoral things that were done." This critical sentiment was only indirectly signaled earlier in the film through the repetition of images that parodied broadcast media's endless replay of the most graphic scenes.
The epilogue of REPORT is one of the most innovative and sustained experiments in Eisensteinian vertical montage in the history of the medium. It is as well an astounding expose of the media's modes of creating meaning, of constructing messages, and ultimately of controlling information. Conner proceeds by deploying what the critic Roland Barthes had termed the "utterly obvious" aspects of visual communications-the stereotypes and overdetermined symbols by which a culture validates itself through perpetuating its myths. As Barthes noted, "Myth has the task of giving an historical intention a natural justification and making contingency appear eternal." Conner seems in the epilogue to systematically implement Barthes's advice that the "best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it in its turn." The myths of the President and the "New Frontier" are forcefully deconstructed and transformed in Conner's revised American mythology.
Like the opening of REPORT, the epilogue begins in silence, but this time with a travelogue image of a matador on horseback parading in the center of a bullring with an entourage of toreadors. As the matador removes his hat in salute to the spectators, crowd noise comes up on the soundtrack, and a newsman's voiceover commences to describe the security precautions for the President's visit to Dallas. Prefiguring the assassination perhaps, Conner quickly intercuts fleeting shots of the Lincoln Memorial and some newsreel footage of President Kennedy bowing to the Pope. In exposing the "hidden persuaders" and the ideological messages at work in articulating the Kennedy myth, Conner frequently relies upon Duchamp-like wordplay and visual puns. Thus, for example, as the reporter continues to highlight the thoroughness of the secret service agents' preparations ("even the method of selecting the steak" for the President), Conner comically cuts back to the bullring and a scene of the matador selecting a long wooden stake to spear the bull.
The reporter soon shifts focus to events at Love Field as the presidential jet lands, and Conner inserts a brief image of the jet at night, again foreshadowing the tragic events of the day. A detailed verbal description of the aircraft prompts a brief interpolation of material from a television commercial for "Super Jets" cereal-"space-age shapes in a sugar-toasted oat cereal." The commercialization of the Kennedy myth begins here to appear as a leitmotif of the epilogue. Conner makes frequent references to consumerist culture in general and to one of its reigning figures in particular-the happy, lower-middle-class homemaker dubbed by marketers "Mrs. Middle Majority," for whom the kitchen "is the center of her world." In one of the more striking juxtapositions in the film, the reporter describes the crowd at the airport waving "hundreds of tiny American flags." Conner illustrates this scenario with a closeup of a RyeKrisp cracker held by a homemaker who crisply breaks it in half. Then, as we hear that the aircraft's "doors fly open," he cuts to a television commercial image of a refrigerator with its double doors magically swinging open to the apparent delight of Mrs. Middle Majority, who enters the scene and gazes contentedly at the appliance and its fully-stocked shelves.
A synching of image and sound comes with the reporter's live account of "the First Lady stepping from the plane," which Conner matches onscreen with newsreel footage of Jackie exiting the plane and walking down the steps. But while the sonic scene remains continuous, with a description of Mrs. Kennedy receiving "her bouquet of brilliant red roses," Conner flash-forwards to a brief shot from later in the day: the discarded roses appear in the blood-stained limousine, along with the subtitle "The tragedy that shocked the world." A more emphatic disjuncture comes when the reporter next comments on the fine weather (''we have a brilliant sun"), and Conner intercuts aerial footage of a mushroom cloud from an atomic detonation, a brief image that nevertheless melds a materialist humor with a forcefulness that retroactively transforms the repeated countdowns into an allegory of the atomic doomsday clock and a reminder of such nuclear threats as the then-recent Cuban Missile Crisis.
Multiple ironies begin to emerge as Conner deploys visual humor and social criticism in highly condensed passages. As the reporter addresses "those of you who are waiting along the parade route," an image of the facade of the School Book Depository is shown again, prefiguring the assassination. \/\/hen the reporter begins to detail the motorcade route ("Just to be sure that you find yourself in the proper location, let's give it to you once again."), Conner inserts a freeze-frame of the infamous scene of Jack Ruby assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald. It is this freeze-frame-synched with the line "let's give it to you once again"-which most vividly displays and potently condenses the humor and the pain that flows through REPORT. The juxtaposition of the voiceover with this infamous image of gangster-style gunplay renders the remark comic, as if it were emanating from the mouth of some B-movie tough guy. But equally (and the use of a freeze-frame emphasizes this), the voiceover seems addressed to the viewer as an acknowledgment that-yet again, and for the umpteenth painful time- we are to see this particularly graphic image. As Conner lamented about the television coverage of Robert Kennedy's assassination five years later, "And then they started the repeats-the replay of the most popular scene, until finally there was practically only one image which you related to."
Formally, the epilogue is filled with brilliant examples of quasi-Dadaist mismatches of image and sound, of logic and meaning, each of which serves to expose the workings of the normally overdetermined system of mass communications and its role in shaping public opinion. Two of these, according to Conner, have frequently evoked laughter (or rather nervous laughter) from audiences. One is a simple, though outrageous, juxtaposition of the reporter's description of children trying to cross a fence to see the President as the Dallas police keep them back with footage from the World War I film classic All Quiet on the Western Front, which depicts machine-gunners cutting down soldiers crossing barbed-wire barriers. In the other, the radio reporter describes the mounting tension of the Secret Service as the motorcade halts and "the President stops moving." In an elaborate montage sequence, Conner intercuts the celebrated laboratory scene from the horror classic Frankenstein, in which the monster is brought to life through the electrical charge of a lightning strike, with newsreel footage of President Kennedy's flag-draped casket lying in state in the Capitol rotunda and the eternal flame above his gravesite. Conner engenders here a complicated set of readings, misreadings, and re-readings that range from the simple notion of the Frankenstein scene prefiguring the diabolical villainy of the assassination, to the more troubling notion of government agents controlling these events, and finally to some sort of fiendish resurrection of Kennedy, which nonetheless perfectly captures Conner's anger over the commercialization of his death-"Jack Kennedy banks, and all sorts of memorabilia and nonsense documentaries and gooey posters."
The film ends with one of its most potent and politically critical sequences, a scene that extends the critique of the commercialization of the Kennedy myth into a global unmasking of the commodification of the political process. lntercut with the report on the progress of the motorcade as it "heads downtown to the Trade Mart" are the opening image of the limousine, footage from the inaugural motorcade, and an image of a female operator at a computer console from a training film. At once a reminder of "Mrs. Middle Majority"-here on hiatus from the kitchen-and a stand-in for the waiting assassin, the operator in the film's final image pushes the "SELL" button as the camera zooms in on her hand and the reporter utters the phrase "Trade Mart." The screen goes black. The "SELL" button completes a complex circuit of themes and imagery that begin to link in persuasive terms consumerism and government control or, more precisely, what cultural critic Vance Packard had described as the role of the electorate as "spectator-consumers of politics." As film scholar Ted Perry summarized this phenomenon, "Our interest in having the powerful image of JFK and Jackie, our hunger for images, sounds, and information about them, guaranteed that they would be transformed into idols, myths, Gods, and this led indirectly to the assassination." Much as viewers have been the "spectator-consumers" of Conner's film, this moment crystallizes the reflexive critique inherent in the work -namely that we, the viewers, are complicit in Kennedy's death.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
- John F. Kennedy
REPORT is the best-known of a series of works that Bruce Conner created in response to the assassination of President Kennedy. The first work Conner completed and one of the most purely Duchampian pieces in his oeuvre was the rectified readymade painting, BLUE PLATE/SPECIAL. The work is made from a paint-by-numbers kit that Conner purchased shortly after Kennedy's death in a hobby shop near the Kennedy birthplace in Brookline. The subject was a reproduction of Leonardo's The Last Supper, a potent symbol of the complicity of commerce and tragedy. More closely related to REPORT was a film that Conner began shooting right off of the television screen in his Brookline apartment. Finished in 1964, REPORT: TELEVISION ASSASSINATION was a silent 8mm film that remained unseen for more than a decade, when it was incorporated into a film installation piece with the shortened title TELEVISION ASSASSINATION (1963-1964/1975).
A parallel, but thoroughly different film work from REPORT, Conner's TELEVISION ASSASSINATION is shown in continuous slow-motion projection onto the painted-out screen of a 1960s television set, a contemporary version of Duchamp's "rectified readymade." While REPORT utilized montage and a strongly articulated structure to analyze the forces at work in the killing of a President (including our own complicity), TELEVISION ASSASSINATION is a complex, synthesizing work that weaves together fragments from the flux and flow of that history as it was in the process of being constructed and displayed daily to a nation of spectators. A monument to the enduring potency of the Kennedy myth and to the "media scientists" and marketers who created it, the installation brings Conner's critique full-circle into the very medium that formalized it.
The 8mm film loop begins with the exact same title card ("REPORT") as its predecessor. But it then proceeds to use exclusively videographic imagery filmed by Conner directly off of the television screen. The formal doubling of the installation-film footage of television imagery projected back onto a television screen-finds a broad range of analogues in the film itself: from the doubled assassinations (President Kennedy, followed days later by his assassin Oswald's murder) to the frequent pairing of the two major media events in Kennedy's career (his inauguration and assassination). Since the installation is silent (even the 16mm sound version released in 1995 employs a minimalist electronic score), the effects achieved through vertical montage and through complex intercutting in REPORT are here produced through repetition and superimposition. Given the reduced scale of the projection as well as the shallow depth of the original television material, the 8mm image appears small and, as the filmmaker Stan Brakhage has aptly described it, "expendable, in every sense of the word." Brakhage draws a comparison between the two works based in part on their differing gauges, with the 16mm REPORT emerging in his analysis as "an oil painting" and the 8mm TELEVISION ASSASSINATION as "a sketch."
In contrast to REPORT then, TELEVISION ASSASSINATION focuses on the reception of the assassination and its impact on the home front rather than on its mythic construction. A less iconic work than REPORT, it chronicles, as Brakhage has suggested, Conner's "immediate capturing of his immediate feelings." This immediacy emanates not only from the present-tense mode of live television, but also, as Conner seems to be claiming, from the medium's lack of historical grounding. Time seems reversible, distances vanish, hierarchies are reduced, and as in the realm of cartoon animation, the world of causes and effects, of actions and consequences, seems to have become unhinged. At one moment Oswald, in custody and surrounded by lawmen, is gunned down by a waiting Jack Ruby; a moment later in Conner's film, he reappears to face Ruby again. An eternal flame burns over Kennedy's grave and funeral flowers are strewn across Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and yet here is President Kennedy in top hat on the reviewing stand on a chilly afternoon in Washington, D.C., with the First Lady and Vice-President Johnson at his side to watch over the inaugural procession.
In TELEVISION ASSASSINATION, Conner heightens the trance-like, narcotic pull of the electronic medium by slowing the projection and endlessly repeating the already repetitive imagery. This constrained set of key images emerges as much from the events themselves as from the marketers and myth-makers of the media. In miming their activity, Conner literalizes one of the fundamental principles of the modern political process, namely that political figures and issues be merchandised "by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods." The result is the creation of a society of political spectator-consumers and a media in which the political melds with the merchandise. Conner gives vivid examples throughout the film of this debased form of public discourse in sequences in which the two realms reside in uneasy balance.
Late in the work, President Kennedy is seen in a medium close-up standing at an outdoor podium ready to deliver a speech when a selection of fashionable, high-heeled shoes intrudes upon the scene. He had shared the screen earlier with a commercial for Salem cigarettes in this new alliance between politics and merchandising, and will soon join an assembly of such world leaders as Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Fidel Castro, and Nikita Khruschev, who meet like Andre Breton's proverbial umbrella and sewing machine on the operating table of 1960s television. In so doing, the work seems to suggest that the final resting place for the slain President would be neither Brookline nor Arlington National Cemetery, but rather in the box, on the tube, held suspended forever on the television screen.