Today, right before our 237th Independence Day, I want you to check out a film that you should watch with very little context. All you need to know is that filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa made a batshit crazy supercut of George W. Bush declaring war on terror to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001. Watch it big and watch it loud, just the way G Dubya would’ve wanted.
How do you feel? Gross? Kind of used or taken advantage of? It’s hard to imagine this moment in US history without the looming specter of 9/11 and the content of Bush’s speech. However, Dustin altered the historic clip to create a new paradigm for its appreciation. The supercut of Dubya’s speech forces the viewer into a trance through the applause of the speech's audience and redefines how our government officials embraced the war and its impact on ordinary citizens.
I called up Dustin to straighten out some of the more esoteric aspects of his film.
VICE: How did this idea come into your head?
Dustin Guy Defa: I was flirting with a different George Bush video for a long time. When I started on this one, initially it was a different idea. But I stumbled onto this and liked it more. Dubya is a fascinating character, the epitome of American ignorance and greed. He's a perfect puppet who I hope to use again.
Did you have any clue or inclination as to what the emotional impact of re-contextualizing Bush's speech could have?
I didn't know the impact until I watched it for the first time and felt the emotion of the piece. I had a clear agenda and knew I was a making a specific comment: that we as a country are guilty for that moment in time. Our thirst for revenge was a widespread mania and even those who were against it were silent and let it happen. But the film allows plenty of room for other thoughts and feelings to arise. It's meant to be open-ended. But obviously I have an agenda. The era of the Bush Administration still seems so absurd that it feels more outlandish than most fiction. It all makes the stupidity of our actions even more heart-wrenching.
The edit highlights tons of playful claps, private looks, and secret conversations happening among the dignitaries during what's supposed to be a serious public address. What's your take on their inconsiderate attitudes?
The film is simple. I'm highlighting a sensation, and that sensation was there and in that room and in this country. But it's interesting to watch it like this, to see that it's almost a celebration. The applause is hypnotizing. Staring at all those hands clapping, listening to the sound of their eagerness, it feels like a great spell is being cast. I don't think it's too outlandish to look at it like a cult or to see it as a phenomenon similar to the hysteria of fascism. The government seized on the vulnerability of a mass confusion. It's hard to think of any other circumstance in which Dubya could have become a kind of cult of personality. He was suddenly a hero. He was the cowboy who led us into a war to kill the bad guys. A disturbing part of that for me is seeing how much he appeared to relish that role, as did a lot of his administration. It's greed of the highest form. Looking at the attitudes of the people who made the decision to start the War on Terror, I can't help but see how blood-thirsty they are. Some of them look pretty damn excited to get the party started.
What's your favorite moment in the film?
Dubya's trademark smirk is disturbing. It's interesting to watch Hillary. She appears to be the least enthusiastic of anyone in the room.
What are you working on now?
I'm putting together my next feature film to shoot this year.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.