Cop Land: An Interview With the Anti-Banality Union About Their New Movie, Police Mortality


In their first movie Unclear Holocaust, the anonymous crew of remix provocateurs who call themselves the Anti-Banality Union sliced up decades-worth of Hollywood disaster movies to create a troubling and frequently hilarious critique of the post-9/11 security state and Hollywood’s own civilizational deathwish. You can watch Unclear Holocaust and read our interview with its creators here.

Now the Anti-Banality Union is back with a new film, Police Mortality, which is at least as likely as its predecessor to offend, infuriate, delight, and disturb. You can watch the movie in its entirety below. The Voice sat down with the filmmakers recently to talk about what they learned by watching 180 police movies, their belief that movies accurately predict our future, Christopher Dorner, and their plans to build a participatory apocalypse.

Here’s that interview, condensed and edited for clarity:

How did Police Mortality come about?

We were in court, waiting for a friend to get out after the December 17 protests, and we were having violent fantasies. At first the idea was very juvenile. It was going to be a totally encyclopedic assembly of every cop death in every Hollywood movie – no plot whatsoever, almost mathematically edited together. The scale of it was then revised. We wound up using 122 out of 180 movies that we watched.

How would you describe the narrative arc? It begins with a police suicide, and then, in a way that kind of mirrors Unclear Holocaust, the mechanism is set into motion.

There’s a detective narrative form that’s so popular, especially on television, where you’re given a crime at the beginning, as a fact, and then you proceed backwards and reconstruct the crime in order to solve it. In Police Mortality, and in actuality, it’s the inverse. You have the necessity for crime – a lack of crime – you set about producing the crime, the criminal, and criminality in general in order to justify your employment and existential role as a cop. Instead of a retroactive reconstruction of crime, it’s an anteroactive pre-construction of crime.

So this initial non-crime bubbles into a multiplicity of crimes.

Every event in the film proceeds by the production of new forms of crime, which engenders some form of resistance, which is reintegrated as crime or as a new improvement upon the police force. Which could even be viewed as entrapment. All these cops are entrapped into killing other cops, and it spirals out of control. It’s a very difficult game of management that the police are always playing with producing crime and then managing it, reintegrating it, making it useful to police strategy. But always with the risk that they’re going to create something unmanageable, anarchic, and world-creating. This was a cleavage at OWS: did the cops lead us onto the bridge, or not? Very few people wanted to admit that we did it. Are we even doing these things of our own volition, or are we being entrapped constantly?

So much of the discussion after the bridge arrests consisted of people trying to shift responsibility for this bold iconic action onto the police. “The police tricked us into that dramatic gesture that we made!”

The agency was elsewhere. That was extremely sad. In the early days, there was this optimism that eventually died, that said, “The cops are going to join us!” But the reverse is happening at the moment of that utterance. Who’s joining who? We especially heard the cliche, “You’ll see when they come for your pensions!” Well, they’re going to come for the police pensions last. And if their pensions were taken away, they’d be quickly reintegrated into the private sector. We saw how JP Morgan Chase makes a magical $5 million donation to the NYPD when someone starts demonstrating against them. That dystopian idea in Robocop, where a corporation forecloses on a city and turns the police into a private militia, is not so dystopian. Bloomberg already publicly refers to the NYPD as his “private army”.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about this movie has said, “I need to see Robocop again. That movie is important now in a way that I didn’t even realize.”

Agreed. Robocop emerges as the unlikely leader of the strike committee. He goes in to the precinct as a scab, and then kills all the scabs. He turns into the charismatic leader of the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, leading the picket line, agitating, “Are we cops?” And he becomes the victim of the most ceremonious martyrdom in the end. He’s one Christopher Dorner stand-in among many.

How much intervention did you find it required to pull your themes out of the source material?

We think Hollywood is close to understanding what Police is. Especially now. In 2007/2008, there was a pocket of films from which we pulled most of the extremely brutal footage. The baby being ironed, that’s from Pride and Glory, a Brooklyn cop movie. Brooklyn’s Finest, from the same year, is also this way. And these came even after the immense ideological repression that followed 9/11, where for four or five years you couldn’t make anything remotely critical of the police.

Though these two films get close, in terms of showing both the spectacular acts of cruelty and the insidious acts of micro-cruelty that characterize police operations, no film can ever completely convey the horror that is Police on a day-to-day basis.

The most difficult thing we encountered was constructing a collectivity out of the police, because all these movies are so acutely libertarian. Die Hard, for example. But to amass all these characters into a sort of amorphous apparatus, at least on the screen, took a lot of effort.

The reality of police wouldn’t seem to be fertile ground for libertarian fantasies.

Yes. It’s an incredible myth, because the only time in everyday life that individuality within the police force crops up is when some ‘Bad Apple’ gets caught, and then he has to be lopped off. The only time that identities of police are brought up is so they can be separated from the police force as a faceless whole, which is essentially good and necessary for moral order and cleanliness. It’s the exact opposite of the cinematic myth, where the brass, bureaucracy, and the law are bumbling, slow, authoritarian, and the truth lies in the lone wolf who knows how to get things done.

For example, last year a ‘bad’ officer was convicted of civil rights violations. At his hearing, he called the NYPD the “most corrupt institution in the history of the world”. The media was quick to call this the vengeful accusation of a rotten apple. But this officer was absolutely right. He should know. He also said, “I don’t know why I didn’t commit suicide yet.” Well?

So: All Cops Are Bastards? Or did you intend some sort of redemptive potential for good cops encoded in this movie?

For us there is not this redemptive quality. But it’s a funny thought-experiment of what’s going on in liberals’ heads, filling in the plot-holes of the 99% fantasy. Whereas Police is a very real 1 percent – the 1 percent of the population it takes to keep the other 99 percent obedient.

There’s a funny moment in the movie when a character named ‘Michael Blumberg’ appears.

We were hoping to make a documentary of the future. Whether its Michael Bloomberg or Rodney King, the Brooklyn Bridge march or the killing of Reynaldo Cuevas, even Cannibal Cop, all these figures and events show up embryonically in Hollywood far before the ‘actual’ figures or events. Hollywood constructs this reality, or its future contours — we’re just logically piecing it together. Ultimately, we’d like to map a future of our own.

So that’s one area of thematic overlap with Unclear Holocaust. Are there others, either in terms of how you worked or what you produced?

The two films say similar things about Hollywood: firstly, that the Hollywood project, formally speaking, is a systematic disordering of all the senses. In Police Mortality, even more than Unclear Holocaust, we discovered that this project corresponds to a sublimated desire in Hollywood for a disordering of the world, a real underlying need to anarchize society.

So in this film we agreed much more – I was going to say we agree much more with Hollywood now, that their critique is getting better, and they dream up the most beautiful ways of achieving this anarchy. Unfortunately they always reterritorialize on order and the ultimate goodness of the police. But if you just ignore the endings of these movies, they’re incredible documents of what could happen.

We have a strategy: root for the bad guys, and don’t watch the last 15 minutes, and all these movies are incredible. Dark Knight Rises, most of all: just don’t watch the last hour!

With Dark Knight, you have the police as impotent underdogs up against the all-powerful and evil residents of the city. It also has that line that you use so well in Police Mortality, “There’s only one police in this town,” which comes right as you’re creating this kaleidoscopic multiplicity of police.

That line is less of a defiant declaration than it is a descriptive statement. The police in this civil war are all still unified in a certain way. If there’s some semblance of victory, of good over bad, of revolution versus reaction, it’s not of one faction against another. It’s more a mildly successful internal purge, a bloody reform.

In the final battle we wanted to start from this extremely logical binary fight that explodes into a completely cinematic relative space of pure continuity, lines of cops from every possible police force that’s ever existed, shooting at each other, exploding, killing themselves, as cinematic space simultaneously fragments and implodes. It’s part of the continuing implosion, of Police and Hollywood alike – the stock exchange exploding, Denzel Washington having a lethal seizure, Will Smith burying himself in a coffin.

What is it that provokes that mass cop suicide?

In their celebration, as they’re firing off their guns victoriously, they accidentally liberate the vast prison they’ve created out of the world, leading to an enormous joyous anarchic riot. It’s supposed to be extremely improbable, sort of like a Brechtian deus ex machina. Another discourse that’s literalized in that sequence is the anarchists’ messianic hope for the riot. “Everything will be different after the riot!” “It’s the end of a world!” Which is questionable.

Do you try to undercut that in the film?

No, we sympathize with it entirely. But it’s a movie that aims to please everyone. We literally fulfill everyone’s fantasies. The insurrectionists, the New World Order freaks, the pigs: we have a total audience. Everyone can agree; this is what we want, and this is probably not how it’s going to happen.

The Christoher Dorner saga happened right as you were putting the finishing touches on the movie. What did you make of how people reacted to Dorner?

It contains a lot of very similar ambiguities to Police Mortality. He’s carrying out these incredible feats of daring, but for the purpose of purging the police department and making it ‘good’ again. Even so, his goals seemed total. The police force is rotten to the core, we have to purge it entirely, get rid of everyone. It sounded pretty apocalyptic to us. “You can’t get rid of rotten apples by shifting them around in the barrel.” The barrel itself is a powderkeg!

The conversation around Dorner was best encapsulated in an op-ed in the Times: “Don’t Mythologize Christopher Dorner.” It had reached this critical threshold where journalism becomes orders: “Don’t.”

Like how during the cabin siege the police ordered the press: “Do not tweet this.”

It’s the same as the eviction of Zuccotti Park: the moment of direct action, so to speak, when you cannot see how power operates. You absolutely cannot see it because it could be potentially devastating, to the social illusion of ‘perpetual peace’, when power reveals itself in all its naked force. So don’t let anyone see it. “Bury it.” “Everything points to him being a folk hero – but — don’t!”

Speaking of the press: during Hurricane Sandy, we saw images directly out of Unclear Holocaust distributed as news items. The wave breaking over the Statue of Liberty, with the NY1 banner added over it. That was a very profound experience, to see these CGI images becoming real, or at least have real effects. We wanted to try this with the 2012 myth too. Exploit it as a potential. Ok, there’s not going to be this apocalypse from without. But let’s do apocalypse! If everyone wants this, if everyone’s so taken with these ideas, let’s enact it ourselves.

The sequence in Police Mortality when the cops detonate the Brooklyn Bridge is quoted straight from Unclear Holocaust, but here it’s framed as breaking news on TV, with the Anti-Banality symbol superimposed. It’s becoming the news.

You’re modeling the process by which you hope to become the breaking news.

That moment is the navel of the movie. We like the phrase “breaking news,” too.

Before we can apocalypse, we have to break the news.

This is already our press movie. There is a substantial amount of media interrogation in Unclear Holocaust too, but this project was much more informed by the direct experience of seeing people arrested by cops posing as photographers, by being surrounded by throngs of videographers providing evidence 30 frames per second, and all the unconscious or sometimes conscious ways in which the press is very carefully integrated into the police apparatus.

This was another philosophical cleavage in Zuccotti park, because there were plenty of people who said, “We’re broadcasting ourselves, we’re in control of this message, and there are all these salutary benefits of transparency — this is what keeps us honest to ourselves, that we’re surveilling ourselves.”

Policing ourselves! Surrounding ourselves with mirrors and not seeing anything but ourselves. We preferred the opposing tendency, which was almost an Islamic theological anti-representational streak, that tied in with the core anti-representational aspect of OWS; the extreme reluctance of being represented in any way, whether it be in some political process or in images.

The result of all these philosophical arguments is everyone mutually accusing each other of being police. “The Black Bloc is obviously cops. The liberals are cops. The journos are cops. The cops are cops. The cops are not cops — they’re the 99 percent!” This became the central egalitarian principal at the park: we’re all cops, in one way or another. We started trying to de-police everything, and instead we made the police total. This cynical twist is what produced the framework for Police Mortality. There was this continuing frustration at OWS, which isn’t to say it wasn’t the most important thing that’s happened in New York in a long time, but that was a very difficult part of it to work through.

You’ve said you see a potential pedagogical value of Police Mortality?

All jokes aside, we made this as a training video for cops everywhere. It should be followed to the letter.

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