News and Features

2 Brits Hope Dallasites Can Deliver the Speech JFK Never Did

Image from Unspokenspeech.org

There’s been some public rancor over how the planned events surrounding the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination have looked stage-managed by the Dallas establishment.  It’s supposedly an effort to control and polish the city’s image on the world’s media stage, keeping the entire occasion out of the muck and noise of conspiracy theories and all the memories of Dallas’ days as the ‘City of Hate.’ If we open things up too much to the public, the cautionary thinking goes, Dallas will look, once again, like a home for crazies.

Perhaps. But now, two Brits are developing a project that bypasses both the conspiracy furor and the Dealey Plaza crowd control. It goes directly to individual Dallasites to shape and express a tribute to the slain president and the ideals he represented to many people. They want Dallas residents to deliver the speech, word by word, that Kennedy never did on November 22, 1963. He was scheduled to speak at the Dallas Trade Mart at 1 p.m. He was shot to death in Dealey Plaza half-an-hour before he got there.

Dallasites would deliver the speech, not by speaking it, but through photos of themselves holding up (or outlining or spelling out) the individual words of the speech, all 2,549 of them. The Brits will then pull the images and videos together into a single video, which they estimate will be around 40 minutes long.

From there, who knows? Film festivals? Memorial screenings at the Sixth Floor? It’s early days. They’re just starting to try to raise the public awareness and the hefty chunk of money needed to make this ‘crowd-sourced’ community initiative work. They have a website and a PowerPoint but not much else — yet. They only gave their very first look at this yesterday to the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition. You can see a PDF of that presentation here.

Cliff Simms and Peter Wood are the ‘creatives’ behind Resident Alien, an advertising-communications-branding company, Sims is the music producer, Wood the print-and-photo guy. Wood says inspiration for Unspoken Speech came from two sources: One month after the assassination, the late Stanley Marcus had JFK’s  speech hand-typeset and bound in a special, limited-edition run of 500 copies, which he gave to Marcus and Kennedy family members and friends, including one copy to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Wood’s initial interest in the speech, he says, was purely typographical: Carl Hertzog, a master book designer, had designed and printed the speech for Marcus. But Wood also remembered seeing the Richard Avedon photo of a New York woman holding up a newspaper headline (left). He put the two ideas together.

Simms and Wood are aware that large portions of JFK’s speech address the era’s Cold War concerns and do not make for ringing, timeless declarations:  “In less than 3 years, we have increased by 50 percent the number of Polaris submarines scheduled to be in force by the next fiscal year, increased by more than 70 percent our total Polaris purchase program, increased by more than 75 percent our Minuteman purchase program … ” and so on.  (The entire text can be read here.)

Wood and Simms are also aware that they may not get enough money or enough participation by Dallas residents to complete the entire speech. So they’ve excerpted seven “vignettes” they find particularly stirring and still-relevant — total: 331 words. And as a demo reel, they created a moving,  two-minute video of one of the vignettes, 51 words long, which they just posted on their brand-new site, unspokenspeech.org. The topic is apropos:

Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely convey our conviction not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.

On the other hand, Wood and Simms may get far more photo samples than they can effectively use. Or they’ll get lots of people wanting to hold up the signs for “Polaris” or “dissident” and not enough people for all the “ands.” What they hope to do — and the emphasis is on hope, this isn’t a reality yet — what they hope is that people will take ‘selfies’ — cellphone photos of themselves — and email them to unspokenspeech. All the photos will not necessarily be used for the eventual video, but all the photos — if Wood and Simms get the funding for the software — will appear on their site in one of those digital collages, this one in the shape of Kennedy’s head. The idea is that they will collect these emailed images over a full year. They took the first shots for their 2-minute video on November 1, and hope to upload the last ones taken the day of the 50th anniversary.

They have different ideas for fundraising — selling off words at different prices, for instance. They’re also open to people, say, scat-singing passages. Or photographing the words on street signs. Or carving them themselves. As we said, it’s still very much a work-in-progress.

But in its own idealistic-digital-age fashion, Unspoken Speech would seem to entail more individual, widespread participation from Dallas citizens than most of the anniversary projects now being planned.