Monday, September 27, 2004

jfk

interesting that i should choose to 'review' oliver stone's paranoid epic on the heels of my curtailed 'casino' review. both films push the 3-hour mark. both are packed full of facts & characters & general madness such that first-time viewing is, if anything, a chore. but both, my god, both are such good films. wonderfully sustained dramatic tapestries of fact & mistruth. wonderfully evocative of their respective periods - in jfk's case, the mid-60's. & while any comparison of the two would see scorcese win out as the more masterful 'tapestrist' (?) (casino is better-paced than jfk, less dependent on extended conversations/extraneous character development, & more alive with flair, energy) jfk retains an almost film noir-ish sense of conspiracy-theory fun.

& getting back to my point about first-time viewing. must've been 1991. for some bizarre reason (i was, what, 9 or 10 years old?) i tagged along with my mum & her mum to see 'jfk' at the camperdown cinema. camperdown is a smallish country town about 2 & a half hours west of melbourne (a pretty town, actually, set below this big dormant volcano/crater-lake ) - as a kid we used to cruise down there two or three times a year & stay on a family farm.

from memory the theatre was empty. it was night. a summerish night, & they opened the side doors of the cinema to let a gorgeous breeze thru the place. i sat between my mum & my grandma & was mildly contented to find i was the only one to stay awake until the credits. my grandma gave in about the time kevin costner (whose face now adorns my bedroom wall courtesy of the movie poster) started interviewing donald sutherland - oh, sorry, 'X' - a vital half-hour sustained only by the fedoras & experienced urgency of sutherland's delivery. my mum relaxed into breezy sleep after double-checking with me that her mum was still alive - my grandma had really settled in, her mouth alarmingly open in repose. i'm near-certain there's a poem in this whole episode.

it wasn't that i was entranced that i managed to sit thru the full 3 hours. back then nothing really soaked in. there were a lot of names, a lot of connections, & a bit of action by way of flashbacks & the horrendous 'zapruder film' of the actual assassination, which we see towards the end of the film. more than anything i garnered a sense of intense, classy drama from the whole thing - especially from the black & white flashbacks, the very neatly edited packages of action that tend to accompany costner's voiceovers (inside & outside the courtroom).

i've sat thru 'jfk' about 10 times since. for a while there i embarrassed myself into believing much of what the film claims - that oswald didn't act alone, that he was indeed a 'patsy', as he claimed, & that kennedy was killed by way of an incredibly speculative & ludicrously multi-layered conspiracy involving about 1000 people, including LBJ. in high school i'd prattle onto various history teachers about my 'theories', ripped straight from the closing courtroom presentation of costner & co.

what a shock i got when i decided to 'read around', to see what people thought of the film, to see how costner's character (new orleans DA jim garrison) is judged by conspiracy-theorists & lone-gunman-believers alike. needless to say, the general consensus was incredibly & often eloquently unkind. watch the film, then spend half an hour reading a website like 'One Hundred Errors of Fact and Judgment in Oliver Stone's JFK':

http://www.jfk-online.com/jfk100menu.html

& you begin to realise just how negligent & irresponsible a film 'jfk' really is. it's a stupidly speculative, wildly inaccurate & revoltingly libelous vision (stone - via garrison - essentially lays the blame for kennedy's death at the feet of innocent, ordinary & conveniently dead men). & yet inexplicably i cannot stop acknowledging it as a masterpiece of detective/P.I. fiction (with admittedly jarring patriotic overtones).

perhaps it's the performances. costner is good because he's dull; stone knows the real interest lies in the surrounding cast (perhaps the oddest yet most ordinary set of real-life people ever portrayed on screen) - the same cast don delillo utilises in his 'libra'. tommy lee jones as the king conspirator, 'clay shaw'; entepreneur & socialite - such a fine, upright but arrogant performance. joe pesci as david ferrie - a rare instance wherein pesci doesn't play joe pesci, but an openly insecure, aggressive, ludicrously high-strung idiot. so many little cameo roles for people who would never have imagined they'd EVER be portrayed by hollywood stars on the big screen. & therein probably lies the secret behind the power of certain performances - pesci, lee jones etc realised that they were playing figures from history who are not really that special. they had to make them seem important in order to add to the gravity of this 'history as lightning' tale we're told. thus the powerful sense of farce about guys like shaw/ferrie/dean andrews/even oswald.

but all blame, both for the film's wild inaccuracies & its dramatic successes, its fundamental ability to get us interested in such a convoluted tale, must rest with oliver stone. he's quoted somewhere as saying he loved the story for its mystery, its dramatic & stylistic possibilities - a plot traced to a random pistol-whipping in a P.I.'s office on a rainy night, a cross-texas drive in a massive thunderstorm. it's this kind of noir-ish spirit he combines so well with a paranoid patriotism to create such a horrendously flawed but compelling epic.

20 Comments:

Blogger Coleberg said...

Great review Foxy,

I've only seen JFK once, I enjoyed it, and like you, I believed most of the Wild Conspiracy theories too.

The main part of the film that sticks in my mind is LBJ saying "You make me President, and I'll give you your damn war(vietnam)" It's one of the most powerful statements I've ever heard in a movie.

Believing the movie based on fact, I believed it was an actual quote, and that JFK could very well have been murdered because he wanted to pull out of Vietnam.

To me that sounds very very feesible, almost probable.
Warmongers will do almost anything to start a war, and get the profits flowing. Usually starting with an Assasination of some sort, either an enemy leader or one of your own who's opposed to war.

I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist though, to a point that, I reckon Sep 11 was an inside job, maybe Bali too.
I just don't trust The American Gov, not with Bush's involved. That family is nothing but warmongers, look up the history of the last 3 generations of the Bushs, starting with Prescot Bush. You'll find disturbing links to most of the main wars last Century. and of course two this Century already.

Here's some links:

http://raenergy.igc.org/kennedy.html
http://www.tarpley.net/bushb.htm

The second link is a biography on George Snr, but goes through the history of how their family got so rich and powerful.

The following link is the bit about Prescott Bush helping arm Hitler and get him into power.

http://www.tarpley.net/bush2.htm

I know you can't believe everything you read online, but this pretty much seems inline with what I've read on a lot of other sites.

Madando

2:20 PM  
Blogger focy said...

cheers for your comments madando!

i think that jfk link i provided pretty much tears to shreds oliver stone's treatment of vietnam war history, i.e. i don't actually think LBJ ever said those words, or he probably said them in a different context.

& i have to admit i'd be very skeptical of any S11 conspiracy theories. i'll check out those links though, thanks.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Coleberg said...

Thanks for the reply Foxy,

If LBJ didn't say that line, they shouldn't have put it in the movie. That's one powerful line and as time goes by could be considered gospel by a lot of people.

You're right though, that link practically tore holes in the whole plot, meaning I'm still no closer to knowing who was behind the JFK assasination and why.

Your JFK Blogg set me off on some sorta Conspiracy Frenzy, and I probably go a bit carried away with the comments about S11 and Especially Bali(Silly comment, it's hard to argue against smiling confessions)
(feel free to remove the comment :)

I was just trying to point out my keen interest(not knowledge) in conspiracy theories.

When it happens in America, Nothing would Surprise me.

8:34 PM  
Blogger focy said...

nah, no problem mate! please, keep reading & commenting! the more opinions the better.

will

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Sly said...

You should see Nixon, Foxy. I think you'd like it, and it actually works as a companion to JFK.

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