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A liberal porn movie

Death of a President provides little in the way of drama or enlightenment.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Leaving the spiked office last night, one of the free London newspapers had a dramatic picture of President Bush apparently being shot, with the headline: GEORGE W. BUSH: 6 JULY 1946 – TONIGHT 9PM.

Of course, it was just a plug – no doubt, a pretty expensive plug – for More4’s showing of Death of a President, a drama-doc imagining the assassination of Bush and its aftermath. We see the divide between a hated president speaking to the great and the good, versus the screaming masses of anti-globalisation and anti-war protesters locked outside. In the process, we are presented with a president out of touch with the people, sending poor blacks out to fight dirty wars while ruining the economy.

While the finger of suspicion for the killing rests on a Syrian man with accidental connections to Al-Qaeda, the real culprit is proven to be closer to home. However, just to confirm the mendacity of the administration and the security services, they would rather let the Arab rot on Death Row than admit they got it wrong.

The film is essentially political porn that, as Mark Lawson noted in a Guardian preview, ‘risks looking like a bad-taste exercise in liberal wish fulfilment’ (1). The film shows a malevolent president getting what was coming to him, while confirming that government is a closed conspiracy against the people. Yet liberals are a miserable bunch. For them, wish fulfilment means there’s no happy ending.

The director, Gabriel Range, has made the speculative apocalypse documentary something of a speciality, having previous credits for The Day Britain Stopped and The Man Who Broke Britain – both showing pretty unlikely scenarios to teach us lessons about how bad things could get in specific circumstances. The former describes a chain of events that creates complete gridlock on Britain’s roads, while the latter shows how terrorists, aided and abetted by unscrupulous financiers, could take down Britain’s financial system.

Like all future speculation, it tends to reveal more about present day attitudes and concerns, as Range himself admits in relation to Death of a President: ‘Inevitably there will be people offended by the premise. But anyone who does see the film will recognise that it’s not a personal attack on Bush but an oblique way of exploring the direction his foreign policies have taken us.’ (2) Launched to the world at the Toronto Film Festival, and with a theatrical release at the end of October in the USA, Death of a President is really a polemical piece of cinema seeking the same kind of audience that lapped up Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me.

Many have taken offence at the premise of Death of a President, including two of America’s biggest cinema chains, Regal and Cinemark, who have refused to show it. However, the criticism has been strictly about the subject matter; the concept of speculative documentaries hasn’t received nearly so much criticism. Range’s previous work is described as ‘brilliant’ by Lawson, even though its grip on reality is every bit as tenuous as his assassination fantasy. In fact, we appear to live in a ‘What if…?’ society, where every action is double-checked against the risk of negative outcomes and the precautionary principle defines our lives.

As for the film itself, the device of presenting a drama as if it is a documentary has already grown pretty tiresome. It was extremely effective when trying to add a bit of extra spice to a low-budget horror film, The Blair Witch Project, but now it’s getting a little old. It also competes with the same device used much more effectively in satire, best exemplified by Brass Eye or more recently Time Trumpet.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of Death of a President is that it doesn’t really work on any level. It doesn’t tell us anything interesting about foreign politics or the machinations of the US establishment that wasn’t more effectively – and a good deal more entertainingly – presented in The West Wing or even 24. In fact, the lack of a dramatic narrative begged the question: where’s Jack Bauer when you need him?

Death of a President was shown on More4 on Monday 9 October.

(1) Like pins in a voodoo doll, Mark Lawson, Guardian, 6 October 2006

(2) Channel 4 courts controversy with mock Bush assassination, Guardian, 1 September 2006

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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