Thursday, February 05, 2004

Interview With the Assassin

This is such a cleverly made film that when I watched the credits I was kind of shocked to see how many people were involved in making it. The fake documentary style is so compellingly accomplished that you really believe that it’s essentially one guy with a camera and all the people in his viewfinder. Fake documentaries seem also to be experiencing a surge nowadays and I have to admit I find the genre growing on me quite well. The term "mockumentary" was coined more to describe Christopher Guest's This Is Spinal Tap and his other humorous works than to describe such fake docs as this movie or The Blair Witch Project. A new term is needed, though I'm not sure I'm up to the task of figuring one out tonight.

Interview starts out with a old guy sitting in a chair in his house, looking at the camera though sunglasses-glasses, the kind of eyewear that have clear lenses until exposed to the sunlight. At the time of time of shooting, his lenses are dark and you are unable to see much of his mostly expressionless face. The opening scene is done as a bad take, a beginner’s mistake and it’s that “flub” that sets the tone for the rest of the film. The cameraman, Ron, is eager to get the interview underway, thinking his neighbor, Walter Ohlinger, is just some cranky old man who wants someone to talk to. He is berated by Walter to do things right, the film sketchily cuts away and cuts back, and the cameraman is now asking his name. This immediately establishes their relationship with Ron, who is laid off and bored and easily manipulated, being strung along by Walter starting with these words:

“I was in Dallas, November 22, 1963. Does that mean anything to you? I’ve never told anyone this before. No one knows. I was the second gunman behind the stockade fence on what they called the grassy knoll. I fired one shot from there.”

With these words, Walter leads Ron on a tangled trip that goes to Dallas, Virginia, Washington D.C., all to find corroboration of his story. Each piece of “evidence” Walter presents is just enough to keep Ron interested and hungry for more, but never enough to fully convince.

The makers of the film were clever enough to pick the documentary style for this film as it avoids any Hollywood style melodrama. Basically, the film is shot as edited sequences of interviews with Walter, a number of shots of Walter driving while off-camera Ron questions him, and various bits of footage from Ron’s spyglasses and the video surveillance system he sets up around his house once he begins to suspect that someone involved in JFK’s assassination is out to get him. There are vague and ominous shadows in his backyard, there are phone calls with threatening intent, there are interviews with the babysitter about the man who was looking for Ron while he and his wife were out.

What transpires seems at times alternately like a conspiracy hunt, a descent into madness, and a desperate attempt to get at the truth. There is no music to punctuate dramatic sequences save Ron’s fast and hard breathing as he runs or hides or sneaks around his house late in the night. This only adds to the dramatic tension, making the movie feel more real. I suspect if you showed the movie to someone and told them it was a true story, they’d have a hard time figuring out if you were lying.

The relationship between Walter and Ron is both threatening and compelling. Walter implicates Ron into his search for corroboration in ways that at times feel like bad ideas that you only find out how bad they were much later. The writers are master manipulators of the audience leaving the view see-sawing between belief in Walter, fear of Walter, and a sureness that Walter must be insane.

The story twists and turns and weaves and ducks, never resting an instant, never failing to surprise you with one last twist of the knife, one last morbid laugh. With the film’s closing words I laughed out loud at the last unexpected twist.

1 comment:

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