Too Poignant For Hollywood: The Vermont Internation Film Festival
by Andrew Woods
Issue date: 10/12/04 Section: News
Among the more interesting films exhibited last year is da Speech by John Douglas.
da Speech began as a musical piece by Simon Stockhausen and developed
into an international video in which John Douglas was invited to participate.
His piece cuts Iraq war footage to the intense synth-rap track of Stockhausen.
May 12, 2003
Thank you for letting me show the rough cut of da Speech in my Documentary Film class at the college. The students wanted to see it more than once but time was tight as the scheduled feature, Michael Apted's 42 Up is over two hours in length. The screening of your film was a great success.
We wound up having such a long discussion about it that the class ran over its three hours as it was, with no time to talk about the Apted film at all. Do you have more of Simon Stockhausen's music? The soundtrack was amazing. One student commented that it was "post-rap" because it mixed in so many elements and musical styles.
I wish you could have been present to hear the comments. We decided that it was more about the media than anything specifically political in and of itself. All of the network news clips and use of broadcast footage. One kid said, "It's inferring how the U.S. government went 'logically' from the destruction of the World Trade Center and the hunt for Bin Laden to the destruction of Baghdad and the hunt for Saddam Hussein." Another noted that "It takes the whole U.S. government war against Saddam with the Iraqi high command playing cards and gives you the "enemy" version with the U.S. high command cards." They called it "brilliant". This one student went on some about how it isn't really anti-Bush at all but aganist the media onslaught since September 11th.
My own thought is that you did a great visual accompaniment to the Stockhausen score. The way he loops those sound bytes of Bush isn't so much an anti-Bush comment as an ironic manipulation of the pop media. And that's what your "talking head" Bush does on the screen. Very smart. At first I didn't know what to make of the journalist in the pink dress in front of the White House. Then I got its irony with her speech about "compassion" for the Iraqis juxtaposed against the not-so-subtle tank charging through walls. Another thing I liked a lot was what comes off as almost poetic, the visual beauty and rhythmic pulse of the bombing of Baghdad.
I was uncertain of whether or not to ask you if I could show it, knowing that it wasn't finished and that it hasn't yet been premiered formally. I am very glad that I did. And the students - aged 18-30 - couldn't have been more delighted. One girl said, "It's art. It's taking all that awful stuff and making it into art." I agree.
Kenneth Peck, Ph.D.
DA SPEECH: AN INTERNATIONAL PROJECT
Creating/Collaborating on the Music/Animation/Agitprop Masterpiece in Cyberspace
John Douglas's video DA SPEECH won the 2003 James Goldstone Vermont Filmmakers Award -- But what is DA SPEECH? Just one thread in a vast collaborative international music and filmmaking venture spawned by 9/11 and a particular Presidential speech that continues to send shock waves around the globe...
The images fade in, already shifting in the darkness, shuffling into one another, as the introduction to President Bush's September 20th, 2001 address to Congress and the Nation begins: "I have the high privilege, the distinct honor, of presenting to you the President of the United States..."
The face comes into full view; high-contrast video black and white closeups of President George W. Bush stutter, almost subliminally punctuated by an alarming red-and-yellow image with bared teeth ("Warning: Bad Dog"), and a barrage of familiar portraits and photos of Osama Bin Laden flash with accelerating ferocity.
The music swells as excerpts of Bush's September 20th speech overlap one another, transforming into a throbbing, ritualistic mantra:
"Osama bin Laden/the Egyptian Islamic Jihad/Osama bin Laden/the giving of blood/Osama bin Laden/who attacked our country?/Osama bin Laden/known as al-Qaeda/Osama bin Laden/killed Christians and Jews -- "
The rapid-fire shots of Osama bin Laden -- some inscribed in circles within circles, now targets -- flicker over news images of a smiling President Bush striding across the White House lawn. The vertical Alert chart imposes itself, color-coding national 'Terror Attacks' status, as the pulse-like mantra continues, "-- the Egyptian Islamic Jihad/Osama bin Laden/the giving of blood/the saying of prayers/(known as al-Qaeda)/kill all Americans -- "
Thus begins John Douglas DA SPEECH (approx. 8 minutes, 2003), part of an extensive/intensive international project which is, by its very nature, provocatively political, highly critical of the Bush Administration's foreign policies and the war on Iraq, and angrily subversive. John Douglas's DA SPEECH is also by nature a living (as in vital, ever-growing, and still changing) multi-media collage, a single thread in a multi-national tapestry weaved by a collective of music, video, and cinema artists.
While John Douglas created his short in his home studio in Charlotte, Vermont, USA, the other members of the collective reflected their respective countries via their own individual and cultural interpretations of Bush's incendiary post-9/11 speech -- or, to be more precise, the unusual synthesized/sampler musical piece that historic September 20th speech inspired: da Speech.
The piece of music was created by German composer Simon Stockhausen, who is now 36 years old (born June 5, 1967). Stockhausen has been studying and performing music since the age of five; from 1986-96, he toured with his father Karlheinz and the Stockhausen ensemble through the world, and co-produced electronic scores for two of Karlheinz's operas. He frequently collaborates with his brother Markus (and has done so for two decades, yielding many CDs and two compositions for the Cologne philharmonic), all the while composing and arranging music for many recitals, various ensembles (chamber music, big band, brass ensemble, jazz, etc.), German theaters, performance artists, etc. Stockhausen has scored many short films and documentaries, and has worked with filmmaker Amos Gitai, and has his own band (MIR, with Manos Tsangaris). Throughout his illustrious career, Stockhausen believed that music and politics should be strictly divided because the wonder of music and sound should not be spoiled by the poor and twisted ways people on this planet treat each other.
But all that changed -- as did the lives of everyone on the planet -- after September 11, 2001.
After the attacks happened on September 11, Stockhausen explains (in a May 31st, 2003 statement posted on da Speech website; see resources, below), I was sitting in front of my TV for many days videotaping everything I could find about it, because for the first time in my life I felt obliged to use my music as a tool for expressing my attitude towards the way, terror and politics determine the destiny of our world and humanity as a whole.
Stockhausen's struggle to compose a heartfelt creative response to the tragedy went through a number of stages. First I did a piece called 'September 11' in which I tried to use all the sounds from the collapse of the WTC, the shouting and mourning and the terrible sound of the collapse itself - but this piece of 'music' turned out to be so dark and shocking that I never published it.
The catalyst unexpectedly arrived via President George W. Bush's famous -- and infamous -- internationally-broadcast September 20th, 2001 address to Congress and the Nation on terrorism.
Stockhausen recalls, after three or four sentences of it, I noticed the astonishing rhythmical structure of those dark and threatening words ( either you re with us or you re with the terrorists and so on) -- the way he uttered his speech was similar to things I had heard from Martin Luther King and other activists and preachers and there was an omnipresent rhythm to it. Then there was a memorial service for the victims in the Yankee stadium [in] New York where many preachers and politicians from all over the world expressed their grief which was very moving but also very frightening because the purpose of this memorial service was evident - war and revenge -- and again there was the same rhythm in almost all the speeches and prayers... even the soldiers parading during the service were marching and shouting in the same beat George W. had used two weeks earlier... towards the end of the service a black preacher was manipulating the crowd in exactly that rhythm ( harder yet may be the fight and right may often yield to might... we ll get through it... ).
Among the dense layering of speech, music, and sound that constitutes da Speech, one phrase that seemed almost innocuous in the context of the first paragraphs of President Bush's September 20th speech -- the giving of blood -- takes on religious, almost mystical, significance. In Bush's speech, the phrase was presented and delivered pragmatically, in his typically oblique manner; clearly, for Bush and most of the country, it was a reference to the rush of American citizens donating blood for 9/11 rescue purposes. Recontextualized in da Speech, the phrase instead becomes a central pulse in a blood ritual, taking on more ominous and unsettling connotations. The Christian context and metaphor is unmistakable -- and absolutely appropriate to the Bush presidency, with its overtly Christian rhetoric and agendas -- but the music emphasizes the sacrificial aspects of Bush's phrase in a more primordial religious, even Dionysian, frame of reference. The subtext throbs into a primal, almost occult beat throughout da Speech ; it becomes a central metaphor, in and of itself, a relentless demand for the shedding and spilling of blood. Thus, the importance of Stockhausen's da Speech : by having the ear for such turns of phrase in a political speech, and recontextualizing such phrases in the broader arena of the true actions (war) that followed, the composer opens the listener's ears and heart to something urgent, primal, and terrifying.
Stockhausen's da Speech came together relatively quickly once he had recognized and become attuned to this ominous, shared threnody. I started to put all the collected sounds and speeches together, deriving the tempo and rhythm of my piece from the rhythm of 'da Speech,' later adding saxophone and percussion... after four days in my studio, the piece was finished and so was I.
Ah, but the life of da Speech was just beginning, though the powers-that-be tried to act quickly to silence the composer. Stockhausen recalls, I uploaded the piece to my MP3 site and there were many hundred downloads just in a few days until the Internet company running my site erased the piece, closed my site for a week telling me that I was abusing the copyright of the American government. I thought I was living in a free country but that was just an illusion and it took weeks until my moral was restored.
Having raised his voice, so to speak, only to be silenced, Stockhausen was reinvigorated by one of those who had heard da Speech, and by the birth of a new venue -- many venues, as events gained momentum -- for his composition.
-- tthe Egyptian Islamic Jihad/Osama bin Laden/the giving of blood/the saying of prayers/(known as al-Qaeda)/who attacked our country? --
The images of President Bush continue to crosscut with images of Osama bin Laden. Superimposed over this staccato weave of Bush/bin Laden/Bush is a denser crosscutting of faces, slogans, images: (Warning: Bad Dog); key members of the Bush Administration and associates (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleeza Rice, Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, Attorney General John Ashcroft, grinning sibling and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, snarling Vice-President Dick Cheney, Dr. Henry Kissinger, etc.); horribly emblematic news footage of the World Trade Center towers, smoking, flaming, exploding, collapsing...
-- Osama bin Laden/who attacked our country?/Osama bin Laden/known as al-Qaeda/Osama bin Laden/killed Christians and Jews/(the giving of blood/the saying of prayers) --
The alchemical agent of transformation was a filmmaker from Japan named Toshi Fujiwara. Born in Yokohama, Japan in 1970, raised in Tokyo and Paris, educated in Tokyo and Los Angeles, Fujiwara's transition into the world of cinema began in 1994 via his work as a writer: reviewing films for various Japanese magazines, translating books dedicated to films and filmmakers, subtitling films, and teaching film and film criticism at the Art and Architecture School of Waseda University in Tokyo. Fujiwara began making his own films in 2001, completing the award-winning feature-length documentary INDEPENDENCE (2002). He has since directed feature-length portraits of Japanese documentary filmmakers Noriaki Tsuchimoto (2003) and Kazuo Hara (in progress). Amid this remarkable activity, Fujiwara and Simon Stockhausen met via email and the internet (see interview), and Stockhausen gave Fujiwara a CD copy of da Speech. They subsequently collaborated on an experimental short film entitled WALK (2003).
In his statement on DA SPEECH website, Fujiwara details what occurred, noting the ban of Stockhausen's website presentation of his composition on the pretense that [ da Speech ]... is invading the copyrights of the government of the United States -- a dubious legal interpretation frighteningly in synch with the Bush Administration's veiled record to date. So Simon sent me a CD, Fujiwara writes, and I got the idea of making a video clip of this music, and Simon found the idea interesting. Stockhausen confirms this (on DA SPEECH website), writing, ...Toshi Fujiwara came in to my life asking me for the permission to do a video to my music, which I found a fantastic idea (I had already given up) and so this video-project got started.
Thus was born Toshi Fujiwara's DA-SPEECH, OR HOW 9/11 CHANGED MY COUNTRY AND HELPED ME SETTING THE US AGAINST THE WORLD (2002, citing Jerusalem and Tokyo as the creative bases, featuring George W. Bush, his honorable the president of the United States ), which incorporated footage Fujiwara shot in New York City during the war on Iraq.
Inspired to continue expanding on the potential and urgent relevance he believed Stockhausen's composition harbored, Fujiwara ached to expand the canvas. He continues, this idea of ours developed into... Why not ask other people to do the same, and have multiple points of views? With Stockhausen's blessing, Fujiwara first extended the invitation to create videos from da Speech to his students. First to respond creatively were Satoshi Kubota and Jin Otagiri, who Fujiwara felt came up with very original and beautiful approaches. Having acted locally, Fujiwara still felt the need to expand the tapestry to a truly international scale -- just as the ripples of the notorious George W. Bush speech spun into unprecedented revisions of US foreign policy and active warfare.
Then the ambition became greater, Fujiwara writes, like, why not [have] an international variation of points of views? As the Bush administration was cooking up their plan of attacking Iraq, friends joined.
Among those who responded to Fujiwara's invitation and Stockhausen's composition were Malaysian director Amir Muhammad, Pascale Feghali of Lebanon, Jean-Baptiste Duez of Belgium and France, Mohamed-Hashim Elkareem of Canada, and Maya Puig, working in Stockhausen's native country of Germany.
Canada's Mohamed-Hashim Elkareem, filmmaker and one of the organizers of the Toronto African Film Festival, created daSPEECH:umm, the Interhumane Order (2003). On DA SPEECH website, he describes his perception of the total project as a human testament in memory against the monument of history... A relational aesthetic which is most reliable as a way to understand the different modalities and functions of contemporary art and history, finding another way of communicating through the efforts of international filmmakers from different cultures and backgrounds working together.... For Elkareem, the process of the project is vital to its function: These relational shifts, or pieces of daSPEECH, evolve and mutate in accordance with historical and social contexts, to create a relationship between different people and worlds, may imply an intimate, minimalist approach in music and film to reality, as well as to language in daSPEECH. These relational issues are perceived by the shifts in terms of strict or unstrict [sic] necessities: for the artist today is above all a mediator, who through his own actions and projects and collectives, is able to produce an added value SPEECH of an ethical and political nature.
Within this framework and dynamic, West-Berlin native Maya Puig (b. 1981) took a different approach than that of Fujiwara and his students, reflecting her world citizen perspective (having lived abroad most of her life); she had only recently returned to Berlin in 2000 to study filmmaking. Since her return, Puig co-created the independent film school the FilmArche e.V., became a board member of the European association of young filmmakers NISI MASA, and has directed a number of short films and videos (including DA SPEECH; her latest is UBER DEN SCHATTEN/OVER THE SHADOW).
One of the most novel approaches to da Speech was forged by Amir Muhammad (born 1972 in Kuala Lumpur), who had been writing professionally since his teenage years, earned a legal degree, labored in theater and television, scripted and directed Malaysia's first digital video feature LIPS TO LIPS (2000), half a dozen video shorts (LOST, FRIDAY, MONA, CHECKPOINT, KAMUNTING, PANGYAU, all 2002), and completed a second feature, THE BIG DURIAN (2003; he is currently working on TOKYO MAGIC HOUR, 2004). For Muhammad, his video rendition of DA SPEECH will always have a space in my jagged little heart because it is the first thing I edited myself. You wouldn't think it by looking at it, but the thing took me days.
Unlike others, Muhammad eschewed any footage of President Bush (or the other speakers) in his video, choosing instead to cull interview footage from his docudrama THE BIG DURIAN, which talks about a different, local, instance in which a political juggernaut plowed through regardless of public opinion. But couldn't these Malaysians just as easily be talking about a different, more global, controversy?... Some seem thoughtful, outraged, wistful, even amused, but their words are erased by the booming voice on the track - the way the voices of non-players are so easily sidelined when corporate-military interests are at stake.
Writing on DA SPEECH website about his decision, Muhammad notes, I knew I wouldn't want any images of the notorious protagonists of this well-known drama, since Simon's excellent track would have already conjured them. I wanted something of a Tower of Babel feel, but with the paradox that you can't actually hear what any of my characters are saying.... When the salaryman on the Tokyo subway finally wakes up, what will he remember of the multiplicity of (silent) voices, or the imagery of things getting hotter? Or will he dismiss it all as a bad dream, as unreliable as any soap opera? The notion that ordinary citizens in a country like Malaysia can say anything impactful about the course of an international conflict may strike some as absurd. But things do connect, in ways that can seem almost ... dream-like.
Still, Fujiwara felt it crucial to involve American filmmakers in the process; in fact, the American filmmaker he approached was among the first to respond -- and with a completed video. Fujiware writes (again, on DA SPEECH website), since it was very important to have a US point of view, I asked a friend of my old friend and mentor who has now passed away, Robert Kramer...
Thus, the invitation went out to John Douglas, who had long ago earned international renown for his collaborative work with Kramer. John Douglas was a member of Newsreel with Robert, and they co-directed MILESTONES, Fujiwara recalls. He certainly should have a very strong point of view of his own about what the present government of his own country has been trying to do since the September 11 incident.
-- Osama bin Laden/(the Egyptian Islamic Jihad)/Osama bin Laden/(the giving of blood)/Osama bin Laden/(who attacked our country?) --
The flurry of faces -- Bush/bin Laden/Kissinger/bin Laden/Secretary of State Colin Powell/Bush/CIA Director George J. Tenet, etc. -- seem to swell with the rhythms of the chant, the music. Agitprop text flashes by, barely registering; satiric ( USA Terrorist Hunting Permit (No Bag Limit - Tagging Not Required), succinct ( W=War ), sardonic ( Vapid Petulance ), merging and fusing with the flicker of visages (Bush pouting/ Vapid Petulance )
-- of blood)/Osama bin Laden/(known as al-Qaeda)/Osama bin Laden/(kill all Americans)/ They follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and Totalitarianism and they will follow that path --
Now bin Laden -- within circles, the target -- is juxtaposed with the Third Reich's seal (the golden circle framing the eagle grasping the swastika, the slogan Gott Mit Uns ) as still-smiling President Bush crosses the White House lawn/a montage of historic photos and footage of Adolf Hitler superimposed uber all --
-- all the way to where it ends --
President Bush's face (Warning: Bad Dog) strobed by increasingly extreme/absurdist agitprop imagery/text fragments/frames (Hitler to the left, Bush to the right: When History Repeats/Do We Notice? /Steve Reeves to the left, Bush to the right: The Bush Who Started It All -- HERCUBUSH /colorful campaign image of Bush with a swastika blazing behind his face) as Bush turns and waves as he and First Lady Laura Bush mount the stairs to their transport/New Yorkers flee as the Towers twist/burn/fall --
-- in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies -- (Osama bin Laden)/known as al-Qaeda/(the giving of blood) --
John Douglas moved to Vermont in the late 1960s; initially based in Putney, he is now living in Charlotte. He is still known and revered in many international film circles for his 1960s and early 70s collaborative work with the innovative activist documentary filmmakers the Newsreel Group, and with his friend and creative associate Robert Kramer (co-directing the documentary PEOPLE's WAR, 1969, filmed in North Vietnam, and the epic narrative feature MILESTONES, 1975; and editing Kramer's ROUTE ONE, 1988). He may live and create in Vermont, but he is very much a citizen of the world, and his personal and political (as expressed in his films and videos) reflect that worldview with clarity, integrity, and vigor.
From his first key work as a cinematographer and co-director, STRIKE CITY (1967) -- a moving portrait of a Greenville, Mississippi-based tent city composed of workers who abandoned impoverished near-slavery working conditions at plantations and labored to build their own collective community and housing, eventually marching on Washington to bring national attention to their plight and that of millions of other impoverished Americans -- Douglas's films have taken the side of the disenfranchised, particularly those who engage with the struggle against the repressive powers-that-be. Among his Newsreel collaborations were BDRG: BOSTON DRAFT RESISTANCE GROUP (1968) and SUMMER 68 (1968), both chronicling organized student resistence (the latter culminating in some harrowing footage of the Chicago Democratic Convention); this body of work informed Newsreel and Douglas's unique orientation to the Vietnam War presented in PEOPLE's WAR, which detailed the social structures of North Vietnam society -- a culture then at war for a quarter-century -- and their ongoing struggle to elevate an underdeveloped nation while maintaining organized resistence to U.S. occupation and aggression. The film was completed despite the seizure of Newsreel's footage upon the filmmakers return to the U.S.; PEOPLE's WAR went on to win a Blue Ribbon at the U.S.A. Film Festival in Houston, Texas, and a Golden Bear Award in Moscow, Russia.
With his first solo work, the short DIE-CAST GRILLS (1968) meshing news footage and original footage to impressionistically capture (in Douglas's word) daily life following the King/Kennedy assassinations, Douglas introduced a distinctive vision of meditative montage. Thus, rapid-fire editing and superimposition of seemingly contrasting imagery (the national/international scope of found news footage, usually shot from television; the intimacy of filmed reality, regional/domestic in nature) embodies think globally, act locally as a cinematic syntax, and even an aesthetic. This vision and approach reverberates throughout Douglas's short films and videos, including his computer-animated creations of the 1990s, right through to DA SPEECH.
Upon his move to Putney, Vermont, Douglas continued chronicling regional eruptions of protest and repression (filming and co-directing FREE FARM, 1970), while adopting a more intimate approach in films like CECIL (1970), a portrait of one of an old Vermonter who works at the garbage dump, plays Santa Claus for a small rural town, and celebrates Christmas with his wife, eleven children, and forty-one grand-children (quoted from Douglas's filmography on his website). Shifting gears, KASKAWALSH (1972) offered a powerfully physical, tactile expressionist diary of an excursion into the rugged forests, mountains, and glaciers of the Northwest, marvelously photographed and edited. Still, Douglas never abandoned his activist roots, photographing and co-directing another dissection of US policies against Vietnam entitled TO OUR COMMON VICTORY (1971); Barbara Reilly's dramatization of the Dhoruba Moore trial THE VERDICT (1976); two films detailing the American government's ongoing destabalization efforts in Granada, STAND UP GRENADA (1979) and GRENADA: THE FUTURE COMING TOWARDS US (1983), and photographing another, GRENADA: NOBODY's BACKYARD (1980); and more (see filmography).
With BIRDS and BUFFALOES (1981), Douglas began to incorporate animation into his work, and he made a crucial transition to video and digital media. Computer animation fused with his political convictions yielded LOVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, NOT THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT (1988) and video for the Quebec/Vermont artist collaborative ACID RAIN PROJECT (1989); this led to a fruitful collaboration with celloist Erich M. Kory on a body of remarkably personal and political animated videos, including WHITE NOISE (1990), THOUGHT I SAW (1991), THE HEART OF IT (1992), REVELATION (1992), UNDERNEATH: A NOSTALGIA FOR PAINT (1993), and more. Probably the most widely-viewed of Douglas's computer-animated creations is the haunting THE WHITEHOUSE (1998/2000), in which skeletal spirits engage in a variety of activities (including dancing around a fire, playing the cello, watching television, kissing, conversing via reversed English tracts, and -- more ominously -- wielding firearms, torturing and tossing a blind-folded prisoner out of a black helicoptor, etc.) in and around a doorless, windowless white house which is slowly engulfed in rising flood waters.
Simultaneously dreamy and nightmarish, playful and pointed in its subversive attack on the titular seat of U.S. Government, THE WHITEHOUSE has been screened (including Vermont Public Television screenings) in a number of work-in-progress variations, though the definitive version to date incorporates footage of the Bush/Gore Presidential debates from the 2000 election, eerie omniscient views of an orbiting government satellite, and concludes with a race between corporate coptors (emblazoned with Coca-Cola and Pepsi logos; a sardonic subtitle referencing the destination Harvard vs. Yale game further links the aircraft to 2000 election candidates Gore and Bush) that concludes with explosive results. UNDERNEATH: A NOSTALGIA FOR PAINT explores a sterile art gallery displaying only images (from varying points of view) of the same fenced-in winterscape, sheltering an ominous satellite dish and peppered with cautionary signs; metallic cubes housing TV monitors broadcasting war footage are topped by revolving cubes emblazoned with the stars-and-stripes of the American flag; the military-industrial complex's icy grip on communication is chillingly evoked. A later edition of WHITE NOISE mounts a scathing attack on the current Bush Administration's diversionary tactics, opening and closing with archival audio and video of Bush's shameless volunteer boosterism while the mournful body of the video (accompanied by more of Erich Kory's cello music) offers impressions of the Iraq wars and air-attacks amid eruptions of static and agitprop text scrolls. The high-contrast, closeup black-and-white video footage (shot from television) of President Bush's features that opens WHITE NOISE were later incorporated into DA SPEECH, along with other iconographic visual elements.
Thus, John Douglas was ready for da Speech, and indeed, the resulting video is absolutely in-synch with the filmmaker's body of work, building upon (while plundering visual elements from) earlier works to mount the most assaultive summary of Douglas's views of the current Administration conceivable (for now, anyway). He began the process by establishing a visual template to match the throbbing rhythm of Stockhausen's composition, working with the key images he d selected -- the black-and-white still closeups of President Bush's face (taken from WHITE NOISE), and the Warning: Bad Dog graphic -- to construct a complete video beat track synchronized to da Speech (a process Douglas described during the Q&A session at a showing of DA SPEECH in Norwich, VT on January 4th, 2004). Once established, this video template provided the frame on which the rest of DA SPEECH's complex tapestry of multi-media images was woven.
Though Stockhausen was clearly working from his own associative elements and influences (see interview), his musical composition echoes preceding works: populist and novelty (arguably established with the hit single -- which climbed to the #3 spot on the charts in the summer of 1956 -- The Flying Saucer, Parts 1 & 2 by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman, Luniverse single #107, 1956; Dickie Goodman made a career of such parody sampler tunes into the 1970s, e.g. Mr. Jaws ), new wave (Brian Eno and David Byrne's album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, 1981, Sire Records/Warner), politic ( Reagan Speaks for Himself sound collage by Seattle, WA artist Doug Kahn, Raw #4, 1982; see endnotes), edge (Skinny Puppy), and the sampling techniques which constitute the bedrock of most hip-hop/rap/DJ venues and artists. Similarly, John Douglas DA SPEECH owes a debt to the unique animation techniques, idiom, and intent pioneered by celebrated American underground filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek, and Vanderbeek's pioneering computer animation works. While animators like Terry Gilliam constructed their own distinctive styles on the bones of Vanderbeek's stop-motion collage animation techniques, few extended the pointed political satire and savagery of collage-animated works like Vanderbeek's SCIENCE FRICTION (1959) and (more relevent as an historic precursor to da Speech ) ACHOOO MR. KERROOSCHEV (1960). Douglas is among the few that has, literally in spades (with the America's Most Wanted card set/imagery, which figures prominently in DA SPEECH's final seconds) and with characteristic clarity and ire.
When I asked Stockhausen about his reaction to John's visualization of his piece, he replied: his film on da SPEECH is certainly the most vivid and powerful, everybody here who sees it gets sort of pale and asks for a glass of water.
-- the Egyptian Islamic Jihad/Osama bin Laden/the giving of blood/the saying of prayers/(known as al-Qaeda)/kill all Americans --
-- (cover of Christopher Hitchens book The Trial of Henry Kissinger) as a black-and-white photo of President George W. Bush (the Department of State insignia) morphs into a portrait of Adolph Hitler --
-- Osama bin Laden/(and you know what?)/the giving of blood/the saying of prayers/(known as al-Qaeda)/kill all Americans/(and you know what?) --
As DA SPEECH unreels, the ritualistic mantra of Bush bytes give way to more snatches of the speech itself, which Douglas undercuts every time with the grim reality of the American and the coalition's occupation and aggression: the President's verbal evocation of Pearl Harbor is matched to television news footage of the initial air strikes on Baghdad (obliquely captioned 'shock and Awe Under Way ), as the military's Saddam Hussein playing card is introduced visually, tipping into the frame as explosions devastate the Iraqi cityscape ( -- and you know what?/We will rebuild New York City -- ).
The dense audio-visual collage eases to introduce news footage of a later speech by the President which John Douglas seamlessly weaves into Stockhausen's original piece (President George W. Bush's Message to the Iraqi People, April 10, 2003), in which Bush says, ...whose principals of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq's future. We will help people build a peaceful and representative government, that protects the rights of all people.... Stockhausen's composition returns to the fore as the aggressive visual montage reasserts itself, overwhelming the viewer with footage of Iraqi citizen casualties: air strikes, bloodied victims, urban devastation, marines handcuffing civilians, tanks crashing into doors (in a second insertion of new audio-visual material by John Douglas, a blonde female newscaster momentarily proffers: ...the US and the coalition are a compassionate people... ).
The accelerating images of devastation become more intimate and human: weeping women, babies, families (Bush: ...every nation and every region now has a decision to make: either you are with us or you are with the terrorists... ) children maimed ( ...and those who commit evil in the name of Allah, blaspheme in the name of Allah... ) children dismembered/a child's skull on bloodied tarmac, split asunder ( ...we are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them... ), the flurry of casualties and atrocities accusatory in contrast with the pious rhetoric of the speech ( ... no one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith... ).
For an ominous but wistful moment, the torrent of images yield to the slowly flickering monochromatic image of a solitary bird in flight, soaring against a clouded sky, and the preacher's voice Stockhausen referred to ( ...there was a great poet who said, harder yet may be the fight and right may often yield to might; wickedness a while may reign, and Satan's cause may seem to gain; Oh, but there is a God who rules above, and he's got a hand of power and a heart of love; and if I m right, then God will fight my battle -- we ll get through it... ).
But the moment passes: the bird soaring is disrupted by the montage that opens the film (b&w high contrast images of President Bush/ Warning: Bad Dog /Bush/etc.), vanishing completely as marines hustle a family from their home (Bush's speech returns: I will not forget this wound to our country... ), the youngest girl's face twisted in terror/wailing faces/flashing images of the Bush Administration's key participants/the family at gunpoint, hands raised ( ...freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them... ); the opening words of the Kaddish, the Jewish Prayer for the Dead, are repeated ( Yit-ga-dal ve-yit-ka-dash... ). US and British flags are torched/angry Iraqi crowds/anti-war banners/fists in the air/protesters ( ...as long as the United States of America is determined and strong... )/the faces of the Bush Administration and inner circle flash by --
-- and finally, the deck of cards: America's Most Wanted ( -- Jacks, Queens, Kings, deuces: Rumsfeld/Matalin/Lay/Rice/Tenet/Ashcroft/Perle/Poindexter/et al --), dealt one by one ( ...this will not be an age of terror... ) until the Joker conquers all ( ...This will be an age of liberty here and across the world... ) --
The short history of public exhibition of da SPEECH began with the video installation (featuring multiple monitors screening three Waseda Versions ) premiere at the Art and Architecture School of Waseda University, November 3rd and 4th 2002. The filmmakers represented at that debut were Satoshi Kubota, Jin Otagiri, and project founder Toshi Fujiwara; the event was produced by Yoichi Sato.
John Douglas's version of DA SPEECH premiered at State University NY at Purchase (SUNY) on May 8th, 2003. Later that year, in November, the Vermont Film Commission and the Vermont Arts Council honored John Douglas with the James Goldstone Vermont Filmmakers Award for DA SPEECH (presented at the Vermont Filmmakers Showcase, Vermont International Film Festival, in Burlington, Vermont).
The most expansive exhibition of da SPEECH to date remains the international premiere screening of five versions at EMERGENCY FILMMAKING PROJECT-RSVP, Singapore, June 10th and 11th 2003 (presenting DA SPEECH videos by John Douglas, Satoshi Kubota, Jin Otagiri, Toshi Fujiwara).
Plans to showcase the videos at The African Film Festival (TAFF) in Toronto, and we will be glad to include the finished versions of this project so far in our up coming festival in the middle of August 2003. This will be a great way to premiere "Da Speech" here in Toronto, Canada.
As a country and a people, we are at a crucial juncture; and it is important to understand the importance of that fateful September 20th Presidential speech, the turning point it represents in our country's history, the United States relationship to the rest of the world, and the world's perception of our country.
Wielding their usual selective memories and conveniently narrow and revisionist sense of history, pundits and essayists from the far Right would already have us forget the opening paragraphs of the speech, in which Bush promised, ...on behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support. America will never forget the sounds of our National Anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin's Brandendburg Gate. We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America. Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own... (note that Stockhausen included the majority of the latter excerpt in da Speech ).
Take, for example, Charles Krauthammer's essay To Hell With Sympathy (in Time, November 17, 2003, pg. 156), which argues post-9/11 sympathy/empathy for the U.S. is a myth. Krauthammer states: It is pure fiction that this pro-American sentiment was either squandered after Sept. 11 or lost under the Bush Administration. It never existed....
Clearly, Krauthammer has forgotten all President Bush promised we, as a people, would never forget.
Having feigned the September 20th speech is of no consequence, it is thus easy to dismiss the dramatic turnabout the rest of the speech -- and subsequent radical, aggressive American policy change and action -- embodied, and how clearly it articulated for the planet the realities of the new post-9/11 world, in which brazen American swagger and unilateral action would be taken without regard for anything but the Bush Administration's agendas and perceptions of the world.
If we can forget all Bush promised in the opening text of his September 20th speech we would never forget -- label post-9/11 international sympathy/empathy for the U.S. a myth -- we can also refute responsibility for the extremist new foreign policy ominously outlined in the rest of that speech, though it was decreed by Bush himself. When Krauthammer, in the same essay, singles out the ur-text for this myth [of 9/11 foreign sympathy] is the famous Le Monde editorial of Sept. 12, 2001, entitled We Are All Americans. ...within months, that same La Monde publisher was back with a small book ( All Americans? The World After September 11, 2001 -- not the question mark) filled with the usual belligerence toward and disapproval of America (Ibid.).
Of course, the September 20th speech was delivered after the September 12th editorial, and no doubt prompted the writing and publication of the book. Bush's September 20th speech changed everything: a third of the way into it, the world began to grasp how Bush and his Administration intended to reshape the world arena, and how dire the global consequences of those stated intentions and actions would be. The publisher of La Monde understood, just as Stockhausen did as he listened to the speech (which politicized his music for the first time), what so many Americans forget, or still ignore, refute, or simply do not understand.
Krauthammer's venomous essay embodies precisely the perverse xenophobic rhetoric Randy Newman so causticly personified and satirized in his song Political Science -- back in 1972 (whose sly lyric, Europe's too old, was inadvertantly appropriated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in one of his most hamfisted diplomatic faux pas).
The myth of a Liberal Media must be laid to rest; the reality is quite the contrary. The extreme Right's domination of American corporate media would have us forget the opening passages of the September 20th speech, and dismiss/forget/ignore the dramatic turning point the body of that historic speech represented in our foreign policy (which was subsequently articulated in a new Pre-Emptive Strike doctrine that reversed a century of American foreign policy, and made us aggressors rather than defenders of the principals the Bush Administration continues to pay lip service to).
The corporate media would have silenced Stockhausen's composition, and did its utmost to do so. You will not see any version of DA SPEECH playing on television, much less American television (see sidebar). If the myth of the Liberal Media were true, Simon Stockhausen's da Speech would have enjoyed airplay above the underground, and John Douglas DA SPEECH would be unreeling on MTV with regularity.
Thanks to Stockhausen and Toshi Fujiwara and the project, da Speech lives on, reminding us all how historic President Bush's September 20th speech truly was, and what it represented to most of the world.
Toshi Fujiwara's project has grown beyond his and Stockhausen's wildest dreams. Writing (for DA SPEECH website) in May of 2003, Fujiwara said, Thus, da Speech videos became an international collective that respects each individual point of view about the world we are living in right now, and by this very nature of individualistic collaboration assembling perspectives from different political/ cultural/ social contexts, should be a strong protest against the dangerous path our world seems to be taking now, in this period of so-called Globalization, and simplistic visions propaganded [sic] through the so-called international media.
By action and example, Stockhausen, Fujiwara, and their collaborators prove the power of art, individual expression, and the truly international media (as opposed to the corporate media). The very forces that tried to silence Stockhausen have only fueled the creative fires that continue to inspire fresh interpretations of da Speech.
Simon Stockhausen expresses his own happiness with the project his composition spawned, pleased that it ...has evolved into a multinational cooperation in which so many aspects and views of the current global situation can be expressed. The vital choice today is: Either you tell the truth or you don t -- it's as easy as that!
For many, it ain t easy. For John Douglas, there's no other choice but to speak the truth, as he has for as long as he's made films.
DA SPEECH tells the truth, circa USA 2003, as John sees it.
DA SPEECH : THE INTERNATIONAL COLLECTIVE
Music by Simon Stockhausen
Produced by Toshi Fujiwara
Films by John Douglas, Satoshi Kubota, Maya Puig, Jin Otagiri, Amir Muhammad, Toshi Fujiwara, Mohamad-Hashim Elkareem, Pascale Feghali, Jean-Baptiste Duez
Based upon Simon Stockhausen's da SPEECH featuring George W. Bush (2001, MP3 and CD); note that Stockhausen also composed an instrumental version of da SPEECH (2003), performed with James Morrison and the Band-Projekt On The Edge in the Sydney Opera studio (released as a CD/DVD, 2003).
'speech garners Vermont Film award, The Burlington Free Press, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003; Living section, Newsmakers [Note: This uncredited piece erroneously refers to the award as the 2003 James Goldstein [sic] award. ]
Brain in a Book: The Science Fiction Collection (packaged in Brain in a Box: The Science Fiction Collection, CD boxed set), produced by James Austin and Hugh Brown (Rhino Entertainment Company, 2000); pp. 146-147 ( The Novelty Records, by Dr. Demento), pg. 174. The Flying Saucer (Parts 1 & 2) is included on Disc 5: Novelty of Brain in a Box.
Doug Kahn, Reagan Speaks for Himself, flexidisc produced and packaged for Raw #4, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly (Raw Books & Graphics, Inc., New York, 1982), pg. 1 ( For the Record, by the editors), pg. 19 insert.
Charles Krauthammer, To Hell With Sympathy, Time, November 17, 2003, Vol. 162, No. 20, pg. 156.
Randy Newman, Political Science, Sail Away (Reprise/Warner Records, 1972).
Text of The Kaddish quoted from Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook, ed. by Chaim Stern (Central Conference of American Rabbis, New York, 1975), pg. 629.
Stan Vanderbeek, Stan Vanderbeek: Visibles (vhs, Johanna Vanderbeek at Re: Voir Video, 2000)
President George W. Bush's Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People (aka, President Declares Freedom at War with Fear ; Address to Congress and the Nation on Terrorism ), Sept. 20, 2001:
President George W. Bush's Message to the Iraqi People, April 10, 2003:
da SPEECH Project:
Simon Stockhausen (including a full listing of his works and discography):
Simon Stockhausen's MP3 site:
Amir Muhammad: THE BIG DURIAN website:
Maya Puig: the FilmArch e.V.:
NISI MASA (European association of young filmmakers:)
TAFF, Toronto African Film Festival:
260 Adelaide Street East, Suite 201,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 1N1
Re: Reagan Speaks for Himself by Doug Kahn. Note that this remarkable satiric collage composition, juxtaposing sound bytes from an interview President Ronald Reagan conducted in 1980, also prompted censure/censorship similar to that suffered by Simon Stockhausen's da Speech. An account of these difficulties accompanying the release of Kahn's composition as a flexi-disc insert -- to have been manufactured by Eva-Tone Soundsheets Inc. of Florida -- were detailed in a brief editorial in Raw #4 (this account was presumably written by the Raw editors, Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly). In short, Eva-Tone refused to manufacture the discs; the manufacturer considered the material morally objectionable and a company representative informed the Raw editors that the magazine couldn t use a performer's voice without his written permission. The editorial continues: We complimented them on their political acuity in perceiving that Reagan is indeed little more than a performer, but that, nonetheless, different rules would seem to apply to a public servant... It soon seemed apparent that if Eva-Tone hadn t used this pretext to squelch our agreement another would have been found. They thought we were being unfair, since the president was a swell guy. And, though they admired Doug Kahn's engineering artistry they were afraid that most of our readers... would believe that our disc was a straightforward transcript! In the end, a Netherlands-based firm manufactured the flexi-discs.
© STEVE BISSETTE