Watch the hands in “Concussion Protocol,”
the new short film directed by Josh Begley and produced by Laura Poitras.
The film is a chasteningly gorgeous accounting of each concussion
reported during the current N.F.L. season, which culminates with the
Super Bowl this Sunday. Against a haunting, breath-like soundtrack by
the composer and bandleader Samora Pinderhughes, Begley shows players
suffering and delivering spectacular hits, resulting in lost helmets,
torqued necks, and, at one point, a mouth guard launched into spinning,
spittle-flecked flight. Flimsy, bright blue tents—where the
also flimsy, for determining whether a concussion has actually occurred,
is administered—flap in the wind or cake up with snow.
Here's every concussion in the NFL this year pic.twitter.com/zyzwciboSj
— Josh Begley (@joshbegley) February 1, 2018
Begley, who works as a research editor at the Intercept, is a data
artist who has previously created an iPhone app that tracks drone
strikes carried out by the United States; a short film about our
southern border, using satellite images culled from Google Maps; and
another eerie visualization called “Officer Involved,” which shows
scores of empty, almost anonymous American streets on which civilians
were killed by police. In “Concussion Protocol,” he creates whole arcs
of suspense out of bodies flying through the air, toward contact. The
action runs in real time, then slows down, and is often yanked backward,
into reverse. The result is almost a dance.
But those hands: some, after the crash is over, rush toward the turf, as
if in search of an anchor. Others reach out to teammates and trainers. A
few pairs, temporarily beyond control, simply tremble. In the brief essay that accompanies the film, Begley outlines his debt to theorists such as Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten,
but those fluttering appendages took me away from theory, and away from
the undeniable beauty—exaggerated here by the score and by balletic
editing—of the game itself. Here were some guys, however huge, just
looking for the ground.
In the starkness of its images, “Concussion Protocol” reminds me of
“Real Violence,” a virtual-reality installation by the artist Jordan
Wolfson, which was included in last year’s Whitney Biennial. That work portrays an act of terrible aggression: one man pummelling
another with a baseball bat, then with his hands and feet, set to the
incongruously pleasant sound of a voice singing Hebrew prayers. As with
“Real Violence”—during the filming of which, despite its name, no actual
human was hurt—I watched Begley’s film shocked not so much at the
brutality on view but at my own ability not to look away. It revealed me
as the product of—and, however remotely, complicit in—the perversity
that “Concussion Protocol” portrays.