Assassination Adventure, 1988. Directed by Mark Allen. Macintosh Apple IIgs/Apple IIc Plus, 1/2 inch VHS; 3 minutes, 21 seconds; color; sound.
During the late-80’s in Dallas I was a video artist. It was a hobby. Today, the term “video art” is somewhat extraneous, but back then—and in Texas—work of this nature needed a category. Some of my work showed at places like the Starck Club, a few small gallery exhibitions in Dallas and Denton, and even on the local PBS channel. This is a piece I created in 1988 titled Assassination Adventure. It imagined a cheesy video game based on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was created specifically for the Dallas Video Festival (an ahead-of-its-time organization, then still in its infancy). The festival’s “Local Show” (aka: ‘The Dallas Show’) that year featured 22 Texas video artists, and had the 25th anniversary of JFK’s assassination as its theme.
The images for this piece were created on a Macintosh Apple IIgs, or maybe an Apple IIc Plus (I think). I was in the graphic design school at the University of North Texas, and that’s what we used—or tried to use—in my Computer Graphics course (the course, and those antediluvian computers, were new to the curriculum that year, and both were considered extremely edgy). Since the computers didn’t have an animation program, I had to create separate stills and then run through them by clicking the mouse, then record that with a VCR hooked to the back of the computer, which also needed some other kind of filtering device I’d checked out from the RTV&F department. And, I had to get it all on tape in real time, no editing. I remember my CG instructor, Susie Cherry, becoming exasperated as she stayed late with me in the art building, acting as a second set of arms as she pushed the VCR record button over and over and kept repeating “Now…what is this for again?” The soundtrack is the result of my friend Lance and me going to a 7-11 in Denton late at night and playing a video game (I think it was Galaxian or Galaga) while I held a tape recorder up to its speaker. It’s funny to see the results now. Back then, when it came to stuff like this, if you didn’t have a television studio or work at Pixar, you had to jerry-rig everything just to try and get the desired effect. Of course I wanted it to look like a cheesy video game, but even within that capacity it looks absurdly amateur (these days, 5-year-olds can make CG stuff far superior to this in five minutes, on their cell phones—which come free in breakfast cereal boxes). I remember I showed someone a tape of this piece in the 90’s and I thought it was just excruciatingly awful. But now…seeing it 20 years later, I think the piece developed a strange kind of value. It’s like a finger painting.
Back in 1988, that year’s DVF “Local Show” was reviewed by the culture critic at The Dallas Observer. I remember it was the first time anything I’d ever done had been written about in any sort of press. I was ecstatic. The reviewer singled mine out as the most “shocking” of the collection, and I think concluded with something like “Mark Allen’s Assassination Adventure is blasphemous, cheeky fun…” or something like that (I would love to find a copy of that old review).
That weekend the 22 pieces that made up the “Local Show” were screened in the film theater of the Dallas Museum of Art, for closing night of the DVF. I made the mistake of bringing my parents to celebrate the honor. I though having a 19-year-old son who’s work was being shown at a major art museum was pretty great! They were good sports, but before my piece screened at one point my mother looked at the other work, and the crowd packed into the theater, and told me she thought everyone there “hated the world.” Then as the audience broke into uproarious applause after my piece ended, my father leaned over and scowled with a smile, “Mocking a great American leader? Ehh…not the best thing, son.” I then had to escort them both as they almost sulked back to the museum parking lot.
Of course what some readers of my site will probably find most interesting is the short…um, interview with me that follows the piece. The DVF guys thought it would be interesting to briefly talk to each artist about where they were when Kennedy was shot, and show each interview following the artist’s piece. I was the youngest in the show, and hadn’t been born when it happened, so I tried to make a joke about this. Tried. I didn’t have a way with words…no, I didn’t even have any words, and I ended up making
love loathe to the camera. I was so beyond inarticulate, in comparison today I make George W. Bush sound like Bill Clinton (maybe it’s something in the Texas air—ok, it was taped at 7 AM on a rainy morning in some studio on the outskirts of Collin County, and the hot lights were turning my eyelids into bacon). I was so painfully self conscious, the taping was like a whole other assassination…of me. When I watch this clip of myself now, I cringe so deeply my chest almost forms a black hole. So, obviously I have to share it with everyone. And yes, I really used to talk like that.
The idea of a computer game based on the assassination of JFK has recently become a reality.