PRODUCTIVE DEATH?: Not if the result is President Cheney
Perhaps because of the film’s provocative subject, few even among those who have seen it have commented on Death of a President’s more allusive and ironic touches. Like the Chicago setting and its connection with Haskell Wexler’s 1969 classic of political, reflexive cinema, Medium Cool. That film pitched a fictitious story in the midst of the unfolding chaos of the 1968 Democratic Convention, during which anti-war protests in the streets were brutally put down by stick-wielding police. A similar situation occurs in director/writer Gabriel Range’s film when Chicago protesters take on George Bush in October 2007.
“The protesters are shot very much like in Medium Cool,” Range points out over the phone interview from Los Angeles. “It was actually a demonstration on the third anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq on the 18th of March.”
Why does this matter? Well, according to Range, it should make the viewer question whether the negative portrayal of anti-war demonstrators comes from the movie itself or from the figures, mostly pro-establishment types, who are being interviewed. “The criticism of the protest community is only in the mouths of those whose views we don’t necessarily share. From the places you expect, like the Chicago PD. Who, by the way, have a pretty poor reputation in managing protests. I hope you were reminded by some of that and the fact that it was set in Chicago.
“It’s not a criticism of the protest community. Far from it. It’s extremely critical of the Bush administration, but I think the criticism is in the subtext. It would have been extremely easy to make a film that was an overt polemic against Bush, but I never set out to do that. But it is also at least an acknowledgment that a particular kind of condemnation of President Bush is not necessarily very productive. There is a degree to which for some people he’s been reduced to this symbol of simple hatred. Walking down the street with a placard reading ‘Bush is the disease: Death is the only cure.’ I don’t think that’s very productive.”
Especially when the outcome is President Cheney. Although Death suggests that the outlook for freedom might be a little grim following the assassination of the current chief executive, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail.
“The intent of the film wasn’t to authentically imagine what the world would be like after President Bush’s assassination. It was more to use the assassination and ensuing investigation as a framework to look at some of the things that have already happened, about today rather than to seriously envisage the world in the aftermath of this event. I wrote the film at the beginning of last year, so it was very interesting to see President Bush on television screens on the day that the film was released in the UK, and North Korea had just announced its first nuclear test, and President Bush was saying the same kind of things he was saying in 2003. So I do hope we’re getting a few things right. We were quite prescient in that respect.”
One thing to get right would be determining what conditions would be like for filmmakers making a documentary about the assassination of the president in the hypothetical world following such an event. Would they suffer constraints and censorship, say from the mysterious “Patriot III Act” that is mentioned? Would that act have shaped the film we’re seeing?
“There was a point where I toyed with the thought of putting a caption at the front of the film suggesting that the film had been approved for viewing. But then I thought better of it.”