The source footage of “Echo Anthem” (which is hard to make out, because of extensive hand painting of the film) is shot from the point of view of someone driving along a suburban street, entering a house, looking in the fridge, and then turning on the TV, where they see a football game. Images of a marching band and a waving American flag soon give way to images of mass destruction, as from an aerial bombardment. The occasional glimpses of policemen and emergency vehicles make this footage look like it could be from the London blitz or from the bombing of Dresden. Emergency radio dispatchers are heard. Then we hear incredible mass cheering as ticker tape descends around the flag. All of this is quite obscured by slashes and blotches of constantly moving paint on the film, mostly in deep blue, but also in reds and yellows.
The crowd and the ticker tape reminded me instantly of the “victory parade” following the Gulf War, as did the film’s 1991 date. I attended this parade as a protester, and it was the single most vivid example of human ugliness I had ever witnessed, with masses of people celebrating the horrors of the Gulf War as if they were the most magnificent things ever achieved by Mankind. I was sick for many days afterwards.
Street’s juxtaposition of TV sports, war, and celebration creates a kind of non-didactic political statement, in which the mindless thrill of belonging to a crowd at a football game is compared to the patriotic thrill of celebrating American military might. Just as TV was used in the Gulf War to distance the public from the horrors of the massive slaughter and destruction, making it seem more like a video game with high-tech weapons, the splotches of paint in “Echo Anthem” make it hard to see exactly what is going on in the underlying footage, which I believe is part of Street’s point. Yet the frantic pace of the paint and the deep, primary colors that make the images simpler and starker, also serve to express a sense of urgency and terror below the surface.