Philippe Parreno

“June 8, 1968” (2009). In lush color and alternating waves of tumultuous sound and windblown quiet, this film piece restages scenes from the summer day when thousands of people gathered along the railroad tracks to pay last respects as the train carrying Robert F. Kennedy’s body made its way from New York to Washington for burial. The scenes are closely based on photographs taken by Paul Fusco, a photojournalist who was aboard the train and show Americans of different ages, races and demographics in settings variously pastoral, banal and gritty.

“June 8, 1968” imbues the past with the familiar mediated immediacy of live television, creating memories unfamiliar even to people alive at the time, since the journey was not televised live — unlike, say, the carefully orchestrated funeral of President John F. Kennedy years earlier. Do the color, camerawork and sound — provided by a Hollywood cinematographer and sound editor — make this history real to people who were born later? Does sitting together on the red carpet watching the film provide a momentary sense of community? And does this have the weight of a substantial work or just a well-made, arted-up documentary?

The high production values and dwarfing scale of this work are hallmarks — and often pitfalls — of some of the more recent works of relational aesthetics, which are frequently made possible by enthusiastic institutional support. But here Mr. Parreno gets beyond that easy impact to achieve an emotional resonance that seems light-years away from Annlee. He may go a bit Hollywood — he has before — but he creates moments of indelible beauty and poignancy. Not the least of these is the film’s almost silent final shot, in which several people stand along the crest of a slope, isolated from one another above an enormous and gnarled tree — a sign of both endurance and vulnerability.


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