“There’s only one word to describe the picture here, and that’s grief.”
One exciting thing about watching all these movies is finding them. I knew there would be a few “white whales” that would constantly evade me in my searches, and the one that people bring up most often with the list is Report, a short 1967 piece by Bruce Conner. I consider myself pretty good at finding obscure material in the depths of the Internet, but for the past few weeks I have had no dice with this one. So naturally, it caught me by surprise when I made my standard round of Google searches today and found the film right at the top. It was on some shady website I had visited before where the same clip had been taken for copyright claims every time I checked, but for whatever reason it gave me access to the film today, and I snatched up the opportunity to watch it.
The first thing I can say about Bruce Conner’s Report is that you should probably wear a pair of sunglasses. I had seen warnings before about the irritation this film causes to one’s eyes, but I figured it couldn’t be too bad. I was wrong. The first several minutes of the film is audio clips from the day of the JFK assassination, a good lead-in to the subject of the film. However, Conner chooses to put this rapidly flashing white light on screen to accompany the audio. It causes an immediate eye strain and ceases to let up for several minutes. I see what he was going for with the sensationalism of the media being reflected by the constant flashing, but man was it annoying. Whatever your goal is as a filmmaker, I think you should at least make your films physically watchable above all else.
Aside from the beginning, the rest of the film was pretty interesting. I’ve read a few different theories about Report, but I’m most inclined to agree that this is a piece about the media. Conner repeats the same footage of JFK over and over in the same way a broadcast journalist would continue repeating the same video clip to drag out a news story. I also think it’s interesting how no violence is actually seen on screen; you just get to hear the radio commentators present the story of the assassination in a dramatic fashion. The last section of the film shows Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy in their celebrity life before the shooting occurs, suggesting the pedestal on which these two people had been placed by the media. The constant flashing, the clunky editing, the repetition of footage – Conner uses all these elements to suggest that the Kennedy assassination and similar tragedies are heightened and dehumanized through the media just for commercialism. Tragedy and dismay are made into marketable products. The final shot of the film just hits the nail on the head as the typist puts her finger over a key on her keyboard that simply reads “Sell.”
I think Conner’s commentary with this film only grows more topical as the media becomes more available at our fingertips. Report almost seems to predict the development of the 24 Hour News Cycle which has nestled itself into every facet of 21st century American life. I also see it as a really striking condemnation of the glorification of violence. The details of the JFK assassination were presented with such detail so quickly after the President’s death, and Conner seems to suggest that this is because the people like to hear these details. They are entertained by the horror. In such a short film, Conner explores all of these ideas while still maintaining a “show don’t tell” approach. All he does is display the footage for us and let us come to our own conclusions about the media and the culture it creates.
If you manage to forgive Conner for the painful first few minutes, you’ll find a really cool commentary in the form of Report. I’m sure someone who was alive during the JFK assassination and shares some emotional connection with the incident would have a more interesting take on the film than me, but I see it as a fascinating piece nonetheless. The notion that the media is profiting off of human grief is a troubling but valid criticism of American journalism that will remain relevant for years to come.
Films Left to Watch: 970