“Ur-uh… the Start of a Writing Project: Ruminations on Historicity and Mission Statement”
Just the other day a video was brought to my attention. It concerned a particular filmmaker (T Patrick), who claimed he filmed Stanley Kubrick some sixteen years ago in 1999 confessing (before his mysterious death) he helped President Nixon, NASA, the United States stage one of the most (I’m told) profound, important, moving moments in human history: the 1969 moon landing. There, in the crudely edited video, a man sat in monochromatic orange, or soft red (I’m not really good with colors) and confessed to the off-camera filmmaker that he, Stanley Kubrick, helped the government stage the moon landing.
Needless to say, I was intrigued by the possibility (though highly unlikely) that the moon landing was, in fact!, a staged film operation to dupe the world into believing the United States had won the Space Race. So I watched the fascinating work: https://vimeo.com/148297544
Though immediately, as the large text of T Pat’s presumed production company came on screen, I could not shake the feeling I was being had. Perhaps it was the amateurish nature of the 45+ minute documentary that I could already perceive some sort of joke being played on my wits, there was a disturbance in the force–so to speak. Perchance it was the element of truth! about to be imparted to me. So… I pressed on.
Seventeen minutes into the documentary, before getting to the confession, that coveted payoff I was waiting for, the overtones of duplicity were stirring. The word “FRAUD” crept up in the background of my mind. It was visible throughout the video like the unspoken violence witnessed in the aftermath of a crime scene. 1) the very deliberate, at times comical, disjointed “rough” editing style, 2) the insistence of T. Patrick to inject himself into the documentary again and again with his voice-over to tell this overdrawn 48-minute story that easily could have been five 3) the terrible lighting of Kubrick that suggested chicanery, half his face cloaked in the dark (why? for shame? for shame!) 4) in conversation Kubrick had lost his typical low-end New Yorker timbre, 5) even poor lighting aside, Kubrick just did not look like himself.
After about 20 minutes, I had enough. This could not be true, right? So I did a little further digging. I found a second video that claimed to be a “raw” version (even though there are edits) of the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR4pf6pp1kQ This time without the sophomoric editing and heavy splash of Orange Crush, the argument grew slightly more compelling. Partly one must wonder why not release the first five minutes or so of this footage and call it a day. That certainly would capture the imagination of all those who watched it: though it would still have to answer for the fact that (gaudy aesthetics cleansed) the Kubrick in this interview still did not look, or sound (essentially “act”) like Stanley Kubrick, and even more there was a type of playacting, a sense of improvisation afoot. T Pat would egg Kubrick on with a question that would lead Kubrick to answer exactly what (one must assume) T Pat and the rest of the audience wanted to know.
Still unsatisfied, still dubious, I marched forth through time.
After perhaps a minute longer, I found yet a third video concerning this confession. It was titled (most aptly): “Beware of the FAKE Stanley Kubrick confession” and consisted of about 18 minutes of my now favorite filmmaker (T Pat) instructing Kubrick–actually his name is Tom–on how to best tell the story of the faked moon landing.
So problem solved, it was all a lie. But it got me thinking.
I cannot recall the moon landing. I was not there along with the millions of upon millions of other human beings, sitting/standing in front of their television sets around the world all those years ago watching the moment happen. Even more, some of those people who were there might not even remember, they might lean back hard on the footage they have seen time and time again, letting that become their memory, their historical consciousness, their truth when in fact they never saw the event, only read about it in the newspaper the next day and then later seen the footage retroactively reconnected the two and thought: I was there, I knew what it was like. So when the moment this video came along, I could not rely on my own personal memory to say: “No. This is bullshit.” before even watching it. I had to do some research. I had to stretch back into the past and dig up some bones on the Internet that might help paint a more accurate picture of what was happening. [Of course, the part that is so fun to me about this Kubrick “confession” is the idea that no one, presumably besides the astronauts that were there, can be absolutely certain there was a moon landing. Similarly, no one can know for certain that this interview was inauthentic other than those involved. Such a wide gap between the primary and secondary memories is what in part allows such “theories” to arise and threaten the authenticity of the historical narrative… and that’s fun to me.]
So what was happening? Setting aside the fact I believe (like many hoaxes) this was created in jest. How else does one explain the overall incoherence of the editing, or the obvious self-aggrandizement of the filmmaker, the humorous likeness to Kubrick’s own idiomatic lashings when the actor does not execute his vision of the scene or dialog (seeing the un-edited version where poor ole Tom is chided for not understanding what he is saying reminded me of the real Kubrick verbally working Shelley Duvall like a punching bag on The Shining), how to explain the ease with which one can refute the evidence with its own extended rawness in the matter of an hour or less? How indeed. What I am more interested in is what this fake-documentary (“fokumentary”) means to memory, then therefore historical consciousness, and ultimately historicity. How this fokumentary was able to use film to alter (for however briefly) a consciousness of the public (however few) and open a niche for an alt-narrative to fester in the historical understanding of that thing in the past we call “the moon landing.”
I immediately thought of Stalin–because that’s appropriate. I thought of how he manipulated photographs and literally eliminated political adversaries (or more accurately perceived adversaries) from the picture. In other words, when Uncle Joe was tired of the Old Bolshevik comrades, not only did he have them liquidated, but he also purged their very existence from photographs, as well as included himself in a few. Then I thought of the Egyptians–because whatever. How Hatshepsut claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. She created images of herself with more masculine features including the manly pharaoh regalia of a false beard, and insisted the gods intended on her to be ruler. This was all evident in the art and writings that were created during her reign. A great deal of which was almost destroyed by her stepson, Thutmose III. He tried to destroy or alter all the iconography and written word about his former stepmother-turned-regnant-turned-pharaoh after she died (of cancer it is believed).
In all three instances, mediums through which we recall the past (tools on which we are so dependent, especially when we ourselves cannot recall, or recall accurately) were manipulated in and effort to force the narrative in an alternative direction: a “revisionist” approach to history in all three cases. And that is really where the similarities between these three disparate characters begin and end (unless you want to say both Stalin and Hatshepsut both worked in government–be my guest). But it brings to mind this notion of historical fragility.
I recently read a novel by the late, great EL Doctorow: Ragtime. I highly recommend it. I had been thinking about the fragility of history, how difficult it becomes at times to be able to separate fact and fiction, and then I came across the very first few pages of Doctorow’s work in which a fictitious New York family has their summer day interrupted by none other than Harry Houdini as he crashes his car in front of their house. The beauty and genius of this simple moment when the historically real (Houdini) crashes into the world of the fictive (Doctorow’s imagination). From there onward the book is an amalgam of these two seemingly contra styles of narrative playing together on the same page. There were moments when reading I had to stop and think: “Is this a real person?” Some were. Some not. “Did this really happen?” Some did, others no. It was this great expression of the duality in our doxa.
What’s more is what can be said about the novel when considering its depiction of the past (the novel being set in pre-World War 1 New York) through the contemporary understanding when it was being written. When Doctorow wrote Ragtime (presumably between 1971 and 1975), he was diving back into the past to write about this “Progressive Era” United States. But because he was writing about the past from the present, he could not help but inject his time with that of Ragtime‘s. In trying to write a story concerning the past, he had to leave his present finger prints all over it, tainting its authenticity along the way. Using facts until they no longer served his purpose and allowing fiction to carry on forth. He had to cut corners, fill in the gaps, elongate and contract in order to tell the story. In part because he is a novelist and Ragtime is a novel. But also because he could not recall the early 20th century, but (more importantly) no one can. [Fredic Jameson explores this at more depth in his exhaustive book: Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Don’t let the title scare you away, the prose will do that just fine.]
It is difficult to understand the past when the ground on which one stands is so loose and ever-shifting, and so goddamned expansive! To put it another way: If you throw a hula-hoop into the ocean, everything inside the hoop is HISTORY and everything outside it is PAST. There is a great deal of the past that is not being accounted for, and therefore the fragility begins to play. Furthermore, even when we start to dip into the past we begin to taint it with our contemporary state. The further we become detached from a person, moment, event, and/or the further the gap between actual and collective memory becomes, the more we begin to place ourselves into that past and erect a narrative called history. So in this sense, we cannot help but create “story” in our understanding of the past.
This is not to suggest that all history is lies (like the fokumentary) or historians liars (like our friend T Pat), but it tends to point in a direction that capital-T “Truth” is very hard to come by and the lines between reality and fable can become quite roily. It is better to understand history as the best attempts by humans to connect with the specters and try to make the most sense out of them, and that’s not easy. But it’s important work goddamnit! We need that connection to the past. We need to have an understanding (however partial and imperfect) of our origins and hope that will provide in us a sense of closure and comfort for our mortal selves. We know there was a person, or a place, a moment, an event that occurred out in the distance, we know “it happened” by virtue that we are here now. But to reach back into a cognitive void and pull forth an understanding of it requires story.
And I like that idea. It’s fun for me. It’s fun to think about, write about, discuss.
So, I imagine, in a very strange, circuitous way this becomes a bit of a mission statement as well. Here at “Writings and Letters” there will be, with any bit of luck, a “pious yet playful” approach to the real and unreal. There will be fiction, non-fiction, stories from the present, the past, some maybe even the future! and political or philosophical musings (why not?), then right back to talking about slaying dragons, and a review of an obscure General Public album (just kidding, it’d totally be on All the Rage), and… others…
A panoply of pastiche.
Join me, won’t you?