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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Death of a President: (2006, ***)

THE TWO MOST STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL SENTENCES OF THE WEEK were likely penned by a lawyer: “This film is fictional. It is set in the future.” Coming at the end of British director Gabriel Range’s Death of a President (co-written by Simon Finch), about an aftermath of authoritarian opportunism when President Bush is killed while politicking in Chicago in October 2007, this disclaimer suits Range’s neatly arrayed paranoid prognostications, which, of course, are trumped by reality each and every present day. (“Habeas Corpus”? What’s that?) How would a patriot act after the death of a president? range_32.jpgBy destroying every last vestige of civil liberties and anointing themselves saviors; by committing all manner of craven cover-up and pitiful power grab, DOAP suggests, and in the director’s own words, a metaphor for what came after 9/11. Range’s use of Chicago topography (and footage drawn from several Bush visits to the city) in his neo-doc (or “retrospective documentary” style, in his words) is astute, as is the examination and reexamination of “surveillance” footage in the fictional dissection of whodunit. Haskell Wexler‘s Medium Cool is an obvious antecedent for this style of speculative fiction, as are Peter Watkins’ post-nuclear scenario, The War Game (which won the 1965 Best Documentary Oscar) and Kevin Brownlow’s It Happened Here, and while DOAP proposes the existential quandary of a fear of “terrorists” dictating entirely the course of a country’s decisions, the film’s follow-through, while compelling, never reaches the heights of irresponsibility attained by numberless politicians and business leaders. Of Nazism, and by extension, any vast, complex horror, George Steiner wrote of the “sheer incapacity of the ‘normal’ mind to imagine and hence give active belief to the enormities of the circumstance.” Range does yeoman’s work in capturing circumstance, but he cannot run as fast as a contemporary headline ticker. In a director’s statement, Range writes: “While the premise… is certainly an incendiary one, as a metaphor for 9/11 it must by necessity be unspeakably horrific. And history teaches us that there is nothing that can have a more convulsive impact on America than the assassination of a President. I have always known that I would be condemned for the very idea of this film, but I believe that sometimes it is not only acceptable for art to be outrageous—it is necessary. We live in a time of incredible fear… The advance condemnation… by politicians and pundits who have not seen—and may never see—this film reflects the landscape of fear in which we live today, and which my film attempts to address.

What disturbs me most about what is happening today is the complacency. Terrible things happen and there is a lack of remark. It is my belief that this complacency is largely due to the way the media presents events. As a longtime TV journalist myself, I am very attuned to this… What I wanted to do with this film was offer another perspective on what’s happened in the last five years, and look at how the war on terror, and the invasion of Iraq is changing America.” With Becky Ann Baker, Brian Boland, Michael Reilly Burke, Neko Parham and James Urbaniak (Henry Fool), marvelously dry as a forensics tech who will not tailor the facts. Richard Harvey’s dour score is a plus. You can view the first six minutes at this link. Major theater chains chose to demonstrate their conservatism by not booking the essentially liberties-concerned film: it opens Friday in about 80 largely independent locations including Chicago’s Music Box; the Arclight in Los Angeles; Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas; Cambridge’s Kendall Square; the Brooklyn Heights Twin; Houston; Detroit; Petaluma; Encino; Portland; Pittsburgh; San Antonio; San Francisco; San Jose; San Rafael; Santa Monica; Missoula; Key West; Tuscaloosa; Seattle; Wilder, Kentucky and Nitro, West Virginia. [Ray Pride]

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon