The Eternal Frame

T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm: Doug Hall, Chip Lord, Doug Michels, Jody Procter
1975, 23:50 min, b&w and color, sound

The Eternal Frame is an examination of the role that the media plays in the creation of (post)modern historical myths. For T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm, the iconic event that signified the ultimate collusion of historical spectacle and media image was the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The work begins with an excerpt from one of the most iconic and significant film documents of the twentieth century: Super-8 footage of the Kennedy assassination shot by Abraham Zapruder, a bystander on the parade route, which is one of the very few filmic records of the event.

Using those infamous few frames of film as their starting point, T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm construct a multilevelled event that is simultaneously a live performance spectacle, a taped re-enactment of the assassination, a mock documentary, and, perhaps most insidiously, a simulation of the Zapruder film itself. Performed in Dealey Plaza in Dallas — the actual site of the assassination — the re-enactment elicits bizarre responses from the spectators, who react to the simulation as though it were the original event.

The grotesque juxtaposition of circus and tragedy calls our media "experience" and collective memory of the actual event into question. The gulf between reality and image is foregrounded by the manifest devices of Doug Hall's impersonation of Kennedy and Michel's drag transformation into Jacqueline Kennedy. Hall, in his role as the Artist-President, addresses his audience with the ironic observation that "I am, in reality, only another image on your screen."

In the uncanny simulation of the Zapruder film, however, the impersonations are not as apparent, raising the question of the veracity of the image. Image and reality collide in a post-assassination interview; while both President Kennedy and the imagic Artist-President are dead and entered into myth, Hall discusses his role like an actor having completed a film.

Through a deconstruction of the filmic image, the artists underscore the media's importance to contemporary mythology — in which greatness is more a measure of drama than substance — and the extent to which it can be manipulated. In light of television's transformation of the American political system — and the later election of a movie star to the presidency — The Eternal Frame continues to ring a truthful and haunting chord in the American consciousness.

by T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm: Doug Hall, Chip Lord, Doug Michels, Jody Procter. Video Production: Skip Blumberg, Bart Friedman, Alan Shulman, Pepper Molser, Bill Harlan, Jim Newman, T.L. Morey, Optic Nerve. Editors: Doug Hall, Chip Lord, Doug Michels, Jody Proctor. With: Ant Farm, T.R. Uthco, Stanley Marsh III.