CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2011.
Mysteries in the Archives: 1934 The Assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia.
Serge Viallet (Director). Florence Fanelli (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
26 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153B 9909 279.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
On October 9, 1934, Alexander, the King the Yugoslavia, arrived in the sea-port of Marseilles, France. He had travelled via the Mediterranean, rather than by rail, because Yugoslavia was not an ally of either Germany or Italy and he had no wish to pass through these countries. Alexander’s arrival in France, in order to undertake diplomatic discussions with the intention of allying his country with France, was a media event, and there was huge press coverage. Barely 250 metres into the planned motor route, a heavily-armed Macedonian terrorist stepped out of the crowds and shot the king, fatally wounding him. And thus, October 9, 1934 marked the first filming of an assassination, and the NFB DVD, 1934 The Assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, details this journalistic first.
Watching this short film (26 minutes of running time), it is hard to grasp just how significant the filming of the assassination was for that era. We have since become inured to televised violence (both factual and fictional), and almost every Baby Boomer (and their parents) can tell exactly where they were when they heard the announcement that John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963. However, this film focuses on the pre-World War II political situation which led to the King’s ill-fated visit to France; Yugoslavia was a loose coalition of several national groups, and inter-ethnic strife ensured that the King had enemies within his own country. One of the “mysteries” raised by this archival footage is why there were such grievous lapses in providing for the personal security of the King. The monarch rode in an open car, with open windows, in order to provide a spectacle during his ride through Marseilles.
However, one may question if anyone learns from these errors. Like King Alexander, Kennedy was shot while riding in an open convertible. As we know from other assassinations or attempts on the lives of major world leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II all come to mind), there seems to be a limit as to what well-armed and well-trained security staff can do when crazed gunmen are lurking in a crowd. And, as with the Kennedy assassination, this film talks of conspiracy theories and the “mystery” that those involve. Certainly, the assassination of King Alexander was a failure of security and, consequently, a failure of diplomacy. As a result of the King’s death, a number of major officials in France lost their jobs. Significant also is the fact that, following the filming of the assassination, all news film in France underwent scrutiny and censoring in the French Ministry of the Interior.
Senior high classes (Grades 11 and 12) in World History, studying the pre-World War II era, might find the political content useful. As an exercise in propagandizing and “media management”, the ill-fated visit to Marseilles is also a lesson. However, this is a rather limited audience, and I don’t think that this has film has much useful content for classes studying media and journalism, as does another production of the “Mysteries in the Archives” series, 1963 John F. Kennedy’s Funeral. As well, a few details need correction: even the English title slide for the DVD uses the French spelling of Yugoslavia (Yougoslavia), the back liner notes for the DVD state that Alexander was shot “point black – killed by a Croatian nationalist opposed to his regime.” In the film, the terrorist is identified as a Macedonian national, and the King was shot “point blank”. Also, the narrator of the DVD refers to the horse mounted police as “calvary” (instead of “cavalry”) and the actions of the Ministry of the Interior as “censure”, rather than “censor”. As this is a co-production of the NFB and INA and Arte France, perhaps errors occurred in translation.
Certainly, the archival footage of this first filmed assassination provides the type of moment-by-moment coverage to which audiences of the late twentieth century are accustomed. Tragedies of this type undoubtedly provoke the question “why?’ but I don’t think that this was an event shrouded in “mystery”.
Recommended with reservations.
Joanne Peters, a recently retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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