Oliver Stone’s “JFK” is a masterpiece. I say that unequivocally. It’s masterful filmmaking of a degree few could ever hope to reach, but it’s been consistently plagued and overshadowed by the whiff of conspiracy fatigue ever since its 1991 release.
This has always been strange to me. Nothing presented in the film is all that far-fetched, and depending on your opinion of Dallas journalist Jim Marrs, it was all perfectly well-reported before Stone and screenwriter Zachary Sklar came along. Meanwhile, there has been a curiously strong push lately, it seems, to ensure once-and-for-all acceptance of the lone gunman theory, which, I’m sorry, if you’ve ever stood in the book depository and seen that vantage point (relative, as the actual window itself is blocked off), then you know the shot was pretty tough to pull off. And “back and to the left” seems pretty significant to me.
I had a 45-minute conversation with Bill Paxton about all of this once upon a time. It’s one of the weirdest conversations I’ve ever had in this business. He was, at the time, planning a mini-series with Tom Hanks built around Vincent Bugliosi’s “Reclaiming History,” which, even as someone who scoffs at the lone gunman thing, I would have loved to see.
Anyway, this all relates to one bit of news: Stone recently announced that “JFK” would be re-released in theaters by Warner Bros. in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC on Nov. 6 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. And lest you think this is just for the big cities, it’ll hit 250 more theaters on Nov. 11. Just in time for my birthday!
All of this has made the op-ed pages ripe for the taking, so Cory Franklin took to the Chicago Tribune for a bunch of empty bullet points on Sept. 6. Stone and Sklar struck back earlier this week, with the director also taking to Twitter to be perfectly clear: “The editorial was by the typical kind of moron who writes these type of things ridiculing complexity, but failing to cite any evidence.”
Fightin’ words. Though Stone is certainly used to it all by now.
I just think it’s fascinating how this film riles people so. I’m reminded of a college professor who erroneously said the film “inserted frames into the Zapruder film.” Of course, it didn’t, though it did feature editing and cinematography and sound in some sequences that might have made you think that’s what you saw. (Speaking of which, Telluride Film Festival Guest Director Don DeLillo was on hand at the recently wrapped 40th anniversary fest to analyze the Abraham Zapruder’s footage to mark the anniversary.)
That’s why “JFK” is so masterful. It is the most expertly manipulative piece of filmmaking I think I’ve ever seen. And that’s not to say “manipulative” as in disingenuous, it just knows exactly the reaction it wants and exactly how to achieve it. Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing’s assemblage of the film in the editing room is, to me, the best film editing the form has ever seen. So yeah, I’ll be at this re-release with bells on.
“JFK” picked up eight Oscar nominations back in 1992, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, all of which it should have won, in addition to Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones). It won two Oscars, for film editing and cinematography, and probably should have been recognized for production design and, yeah, Kevin Costner’s leading performance (which is a bit unsung, I feel). So, if you’re a fan like me, mark your calendars.
(By the way, I recommend The Dallas Morning News’ year-long study JFK50 for those interested.)
“JFK” makes its way back to theaters on Nov. 6.