Monday, March 19, 2007

Brad Cran's "Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of Ronald Reagan: A History of Propaganda in Motion Pictures" from Fence magazine, Volume 9, No. 2

It's been a while since I've seen anything by Vancouver writer Brad Cran, inventor of the 1990s chapbook publisher Smoking Lung Press, publisher of a couple dozen small-run poetry and fiction chapbooks by various west coast writers, usually publishing for the first time in single-author form, including Ryan Knighton, Karen Solie, Billeh Nickerson and Cran himself before the press produced two trade books, Hammer and Tongs: A Smoking Lung Anthology (1999) and a blues anthology of Canadian poetry, Why I Sing the Blues: Poems and Lyrics (co-edited with Jan Zwicky, 2000). A poetry collection of his own, The Good Life, even appeared a year later with Nightwood Editions, but since then he's been relatively quiet, publishing maybe a poem or two here or there in journals (rumours at one point had him schooling in the United States and that he had a child, but I've been out of touch with Cran since about 2000 or so). In the new issue of Fence magazine, out of New York State, comes his very smart three-part essay "Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of Ronald Reagan: A History of Propaganda in Motion Pictures." Working through various aspects of the film industry, Cran works a magnificent ongoing essay mixing politics and art through short sections on various aspects of film and propaganda, including William McKinley in 1896, President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 with Birth of a Nation, to Iraq and Vietnam, Robert Redford vs. Richard Nixon (The Candidate and All the President's Men), to John Hinckley, Jr., Bruce Willis, Hitler, Winston Churchill and Black Hawk Down. Is there nothing as innocent as we had originally hoped? Making connection after connection, the research for these pieces must have been immense; I don’t know where this essay began or where it is going (how long it eventually might be), but it is easily the best part of the new issue. What's interesting, too, is how the essay works in three parts, scattered throughout the issue, instead of working one up against the other; what is it about the delay?
Love Is on the Air

Ronald Reagan perfected a type of radio announcing known as the ticker tape play-by-play, which consisted of Reagan spinning wild tales of suspenseful sporting events based on the tiny bits of information supplied by ticker tape. Years later in a political speech, he reflected on his time as a radio announcer by saying, "I once learned the hard way that whether you have anything to say or not, keep talking." Reagan's experience in front of the microphone led to his first Hollywood role, as a sports announcer in Love Is on the Air, and to his testimony at the congressional hearings on the menace of Communism during the McCarthy era, and then on to political speeches promoting the Republican Party. Every important aspect of Reagan's life was in some way channelled through a microphone. So it was in front of a live microphone before his weekly radio address in August 1984 that Reagan cleared his throat and announced, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes" His aides moved quickly to issue a disclaimer stating that Reagan did not know how to use a microphone and had no idea that it was live.

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