The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 arguably spawned more conspiracy theories than any other incident in American history, and no one has speculated on the nefarious forces at play in this homicide. more publicly and more feverishly than Olivier Pierre. Acclaimed director’s 1991 thriller JFK turned the tragedy into a national guessing game about motives, culprits and secret machinations carried on in the shadows, pointing in so many directions that today he looks like an ancestor of our present, wealthy reality in fake news. Depending on who you ask, JFK cemented Stone’s legacy as a ready-to-speak truth-telling brand in power, or a weirdo lost in a haze of make-believe.
Today, 30 years later, he is back at the scene of the crime.
Based on Fate betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison affair by James DiEugenio, the doc JFK revisited: through the looking glass aims to present concrete answers to Kennedy’s murder and in doing so validate Stone’s earlier fictional take on the subject. Featured November 19 on Showtime (following its Cannes Film Festival debut last July), this is a typical Stone effort, at once complete and overloaded, compelling and boring, sure of its own authority and yet little willing (or unable) to provide definitive proof of its claims. Narrated by Stone, Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Sutherland, the latter of whom also co-starred in JFK, in addition to occasionally introducing Stone himself on camera, this is a non-fiction investigation packed with names, dates, faces, documents, events, conversations, conjectures and commentary from a variety of authors and academics. If ever a film was both exhaustive and exhausting, this is it.
Even though he hasn’t made a memorable fictional feature in 15 years (it would be World Trade Center), JFK revisited immediately proves that the director has lost nothing of his art of editing. In the first few minutes, he assembles a cornucopia of archival clips relating to the Kennedy assassination that provide a comprehensive contextual basis for the investigation to follow. The breadth of information Stone crams into this opening salvo, and the suspense, terror and grief it captures, is a wonder to behold. It conveys the main facets of Kennedy’s execution so well that the filmmaker is then free to choose from a myriad of aspects of the official narrative that would emerge thereafter.
The speed with which Stone stages his introduction doesn’t wear off for the rest of the proceedings, which are both a blessing and a curse. After removing the basics, Stone dives headfirst into examining various key details that are open to reinterpretation, thanks to revelations that have come to light in the weeks, months, and years after Kennedy’s death. The first is the “single bullet theory” promoted by the Warren Commission and, in particular, Arlen Specter, then a staff member, who argued that a projectile fired by Lee Harvey Oswald hit Kennedy in the back, came out. through the throat, then hit Texas. Governor John Connally, who was seated in front of the President as they marched through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. A series of speakers drilled holes in different aspects of this premise, from discrepancies over chain of possession reports, to no damage found on the bullet, to doubt that Oswald owns the rifle that ended up. in police custody, at autopsy. reports (on the location of the gunshot wound and the weight of Kennedy’s brain) which may have been altered.
Stone throws it all on screen without giving the audience time to breathe and consider what is being presented, and the effect is akin to being lectured by someone wanting to sway with overwhelming force. Stone can move at this pace so he can fit all of his ideas into a two hour run time, but that doesn’t change the fact that JFK revisited: through the looking glass tries to persuade by a blitzkrieg type approach. While Stone’s abundance of data is meant to project some fundamental certainty, the director’s rapid distribution of his material suggests an absolute lack of confidence, as if he worries about dwelling too long on one item or allow opposing voices to be heard. – could undermine the whole effort.
Thus, the film advances into other areas, including Oswald’s potentially close ties to the CIA and the CIA’s (and right-wing establishment) objection to Kennedy’s progressive ideas and ambitions. The first common thread is to rehash Oswald’s defection in 1959 to the Soviet Union, his stint distributing pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans and his own murder on national television at the hands of Jack Ruby. The latter involves speculation about the CIA’s role in sabotaging the Bay of Pigs, and opposing Kennedy’s plans to withdraw from Vietnam and his support for civil rights. Much of this has already been heard by Stone and many others, some slightly convincing, some… less.
“The director’s rapid distribution of his material suggests an absolute lack of confidence, as if he worried that lingering too long on one element – or allowing opposing voices to be heard – might harm the film. whole effort.“
The general argument advanced by JFK revisited: through the looking glass is that the CIA offended Kennedy and then engaged in an elaborate, multi-pronged cover-up via the Warren Commission and multiple agents who succeeded in falsifying or destroying records, people armed to lie about what they have seen or done, and spread lies in order to manipulate public opinion. Stone’s investigation into the kitchen sink suggests questions remain about certain elements of this saga, most notably Oswald’s relationship with the CIA, as the office of the pro-Cuban group Oswald was located in the same building. than that of a former FBI agent. – and, it turns out, was also across from the local CIA HQ. These kinds of coincidences abound, and together they go some way to raising suspicion about the Warren Commission’s single-shot theory.
On the flip side, however, Stone’s tactics in this matter – namely, to bombard viewers with “evidence” – frequently sabotages his ultimate point. JFK revisited: through the looking glass may contain truths, but they are buried under so much enthralling speculation that it is impossible to grasp them firmly.