Daily | Revisiting Oliver Stone’s JFK


Kevin Costner and Oliver Stone on the set of ‘JFK’

“First and foremost, of course, it was a controversy magnet,” writes Bilge Ebiri in a marvelous piece for Vulture on Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991):

Stone endorsed (more than endorsed — magnified and dramatized and even melodramatized) Garrison’s elaborate conspiracy theory that Kennedy had been killed by a massive cabal involving the military-industrial complex, the U.S. intelligence apparatus, shady Southern businessmen, Lyndon B. Johnson, “the homosexual underworld,” and a host of other players who were peeved at the young president’s efforts to roll back the American war machine and the nascent military effort in Vietnam. The film portrayed Garrison as an earnest, Capra-esque hero who just wanted his country back from the war mongers.

But in many ways, Garrison was just a vessel. The real attraction in JFK was the film’s densely packed, kaleidoscopic whirr of mixed-media imagery—golden-hued cinematography cut with newsreel cut with fake newsreel cut with still shots cut with flashbacks cut with re-creations. Here was a stylistic breakthrough and a historical document all in one, a movie that wanted to change both cinema and the world.

Do read on. Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chris Wallace recalls how “what I now consider to be to be among the greatest American studio movies made in my lifetime hit me slowly, feeding my head with its heavy doses of paranoia, conspiracy, and exquisite film craft. For years after, I would put in the VHS—and later, the DVD—of JFK to watch as I fell asleep, to dream byzantine plots, pursued by shadowy conspirators, a moral crusader on the side of the Truth.” Even though, as Wallace readily admits, Stone does occasionally whip out and flash his poetic license. “To this day Stone remains an eloquent and outspoken defender of these choices, which of course begs the point that he still has to be. In the build up to its re-release on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the assassination, he has reiterated his claim that JFK presents a factual, historically accurate counterprogramming to the published findings of the Warren Commission…. More whistleblower-movie than straight detective story, JFK feels, in the era of Snowden and Manning—both of whom Stone resolutely supports—as freshly ripped from the headlines as an episode in a Dick Wolf serial.”

For Eric Henderson, writing for Slant, JFK is “the crown jewel of the small but potent bunch of films that seemingly rode the collective insanity of the cultural zeitgeist to financial reward and, more importantly, cultural cachet—two other obvious examples being Network, which explicitly “articulated the popular rage” that had more or less been building since the Kennedy assassination, and The Passion of the Christ, which disguised post-9/11 righteous bloodlust within the greatest act of love mankind has ever known.” JFK “conflates both documented facts and speculative theories through its varied film stocks and dazzlingly edited form. (Sergei Eisenstein would’ve torn apart his popcorn box in jealousy.) Stone, as evidenced in the massively footnoted shooting script published in accompaniment with the movie, has clearly never heard the phrase ‘consider the source.'”

One of Slant‘s “Links for the Day” today takes us to Stone‘s (unedited) USA Today Op-Ed in which, once again, he reiterates his rejection of “the official story,” i.e., that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. And “the motivating factor has not been my idealistic view of Kennedy or what he might have done had he lived, but the very evidence of the shooting itself, which remains, then and now, highly dubious.” Bullet points follow.

Recent interviews with Stone regarding JFK: Danielle Bacher (Rolling Stone) and Michael R. Miller (Truthout). Then you can spend 90’55” with the Movie Geeks United who discuss the film amongst themselves and with cinematographer Robert Richardson, editor Joe Hutshing, and others who worked on JFK.

Update, 11/23:

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