the better truth

the better truth

Saturday, October 19, 2013

JFK (1991)


    It isn't really necessary to pay that much attention to an Oliver Stone movie. You can make dinner, talk to a friend on the phone, work out, read the paper… just so you glance over every 5 or 10 minutes for a visual or a snippet of dialogue. That'll do it. No need to take the whole thing in. One sixtieth will suffice. OS has an interesting attitude about subtlety. His movie characters haven't yet resorted to wearing placards designating "good" and "evil". Then again there are so many fascinating hot buttons of current social history which OS has yet to apply his fresh, brilliant, cinematic vision. Maybe he can utilize the placard technique in MANSON?   

    JFK breaks new ground for America's premier storyteller. Even if an audience listens to every word and watches every frame; the film remains utterly incomprehensible. I will refrain from commenting on OS's understanding of recent history. It would bring back memories of 25 minutes I spent with an anti-Darwin creation-science teacher. I will, however, dare to go way out on a limb and say I don't believe our former President was soft on Communism and I do not consider the DA of New Orleans to be beyond reproach. (To quote a former Governor of that bastion of civic propriety: "The only way they gonna run me outta office is if they find me in a hotel room with a women dead or a boy alive".) But lets not get into all that. Let's look at JFK on its own merits.

    I enjoyed the first twenty minutes. Those montages of all the great old people in the great old days. Kinda makes you wonder about now. It's like seeing a clip of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show then witnessing Guns'n'Roses on MTV. What the hell happened? We used to be so cool, interesting and more than anything, full of conviction. It's even worse when we try to relive the past (e.g. the remake of Breathless or Paul McCartney on MTV unplugged.) Yes, yes I know revisionist historians have gone and proved that Camelot was a forerunner of Reagan's P.R. blitz. And that no one was really as pretty, as smart, as cool or thin as we are all programmed to believe. Perhaps all those blurry black and white pictures make you suspend, for a few seconds, the inherent sense of cynicism which is a part of any rational person who grew up in the 70's and came of age in the 80's. Perhaps. Perhaps. There is, however, more to it than just romanticizing. Orson Welles, the cinematic  Last night Orson Welles The Third Man" was on T.V. He made this memorizing political thriller when he was in his early 30s. I couldn't help shuddering to myself when I thought of our current cinematic wunderkind's latest film, "Kafka". This is also a statement about government intrigue;  unfortunately it is opaque and private whereas Welles' work is crisp and universal. Maybe it's nostalgia but something seems lacking when contrasted with the past. 

    To quote Lou Reed from his ballad "Heroin", "I guess I just don't know. And I guess that I just don't know". This echoed through my head for the remaining 2 hours and 40 minutes of JFK. In a sense this is a battle cry for our time. Our master storyteller utilizing all the creative talent currently available - the finest actors, grips, cameramen, lighting designers, set designers, gaffers,  FX men… all to set the stage for the climax: A courtroom scene in which the main conspirator is on trial for no easily discernible reason and the protagonist is choreographing a ballistic ballet making and equally obscure point. This is capped off by a speech in which Kevin Costner looks into the camera and implores us all to do something. I can't remember what. Maybe it was to convict the "fag". Oh yes. On top being a dullard OS is a bigot. But male homosexuals should take solace in the fact that OS is what they are often falsely accused of being: a rapid misogynist. In OS's universe women are awful and irrelevant - lesbians do not exist. Back to that closing scene. Is Donald Trump writing screenplays? I ask because the closing argument bore a striking prosaic resemblance to Mr. Trump's full page N.Y. Times add "Why I bought the Plaza Hotel". Mr. Trumps musings about the Mona Lisa vs. Mr. Costner's quoting Coleridge or was it Browning? or was it Tennyson? Well I know it wasn't Ginsberg.

    I'm feeling very lonely these days. The world seems to be wondering "Who was on the grassy knoll?" Congress is opening files. Oprah, Phil, Sally and Heraldo are pointing at Cubans and the mob. N.P.R. has experts arguing with callers who are quoting the Warren Commission verbatim. Norman Mailer has weighed in with a piece for Vanity Fair. OS is addressing the National Press club then he is scheduled to be on a panel with Nora Ephron and others. OS is in New Hampshire denouncing everyone and everything and telling students at Dartmouth he'll let them see JFK for free if they vote. "I guess I just don't know. And I guess that I just don't know."

    I've strayed. Lets return to the latest creation and take it scene by scene. After the montages, Ed Asner argues with Jack Lemon about something. Ed dies? Is murdered? Joe Pesci gets hauled in by Kevin Costner. Something about goose hunting in Texas. There are many gay people having fun; something which seems to elude all the hets (maybe I was wrong about OS).  The fun male homosexuals are right wing crazies who run a military camp and want to invade Cuba - they hate JFK who they consider a wimp and a traitor. We shift to the future. Kevin Costner is on a plane with Walter Matthau. For me this was the most startling scenes in the film. I thought Matthau had died of a heart attack many years ago. I could have sworn I had read his obituary. Yet there he was sitting next to Costner on the plane playing Sen. Earl Long. My heart was pounding. I almost turned to the stranger next to me "Isn't Walter Matthau…" Luckily, the invigorating dialogue brought me back to my senses: Sen. Long expresses misgivings about the Kennedy assassination saying he thought something might have been going on. Oswald had some dealings in New Orleans. Costner decides to dedicate his life to finding the "real" assassin. Of course. Why not. He is only the DA for New Orleans. He has all the time in the world. I wonder if Sen. Long had decided to talk about the Bermuda Triangle what course the film would have taken. Back to the plot. There are meandering intrigues. His wife is a bitch. The guys in the office are nice but weird. More of the right wing homosexuals. It goes on. What did I forget to remember? Oh yes, Donald Sutherland appearing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Costner gets a phone call from a stranger who claims to be a ex-CIA man and tells him to fly to Washington D.C. and meet him by the Lincoln Memorial. Costner takes the next plane - of course. A thumbnail rule in "good" film or theater is "show don't tell". Well Donald tells and tells and tells and tells and tells… a verbal diarrhea burst of conspiratorial crap. Something about being sent to the South Pole and a newspaper in New Zealand. He wasn't very engaging and when Costner asks him to stop talking and start helping, he pats Costner on the back as if to say "What do you think I am, crazy?". Unfortunately for movie audiences nationwide OS never explores the answer to this question. Sutherland wishes Costner luck, walks away and disappears.

    I wonder if the Sutherland scene was based on actual encounters. I can imagine OS receiving clandestine calls in the middle of the night to arrange meeting with strangers in Grand Central station or the Golden Gate Bridge. This might account for his view of the King and RFK assassinations. (OS doesn't miss a cultural-historical beat.) OS ties these events into this plot as only someone of his abilities could. Sissy Spacek, Costner's wife, is burdened with their 7 children. Or was it 5 children. No, no I distinctly remember there was only one child in the closing shot. The family tableau of the wronged Kevin Cosner marching off in the distance with wife and child.(Do you think they killed their own children? No, no they just shrank the family to fit the shot) Back to OS's brilliant tie in: Sissy, overburdened with a large number of children, <7 but="">3, thinks hubby has lost a screw. What a crazy ungrateful bitch. Just when he was about to take a field trip to Dallas. (Remember he lives in WHO-DAT-VILLE.) Costner sees King and RFK blown away on the tube and he straightens Sissy out… "You're crazy if you don't think this is connected to what I'm doing". I dunno Kev. Maybe the little lady is on to something or maybe James Earl Ray and Siran Siran were on the payroll of Bell Helicopter. I can't go on.

    I just saw a poster for RUBY- "the man who killed the man who killed Kennedy". Ruby is dead. Oswald is dead. JFK is dead. Walter Matthau isn't dead. Jim Morrison is dead? Elvis is dead? Is Paul dead?  "I guess I just don't know. And I guess that I just don't know"    


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