Errol Morris’s JFK assassination short: The Umbrella Man

Senior Editor
11.22.11 29 Comments

Today is the 48th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and while I think it’s pretty obvious that the mob did it, conspiracy theories still abound (I don’t really consider the mob a “conspiracy theory” per se). With the number of theories increasing every year, acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris took a different approach this short (which you can watch below), choosing instead to focus on the idea that the more you focus on one strange aspect of a story, the more sinister it can become as you get further removed from the event. He uses as an example of this phenomenon the “Umbrella Man,” a man standing along the parade route on November 22nd, 1963 who was photographed from a few different angles holding a big, black umbrella, even though it was clearly a sunny day. WHAT’S WITH THE UMBRELLA, FREAKSHOW? ARE YOU ALLERGIC TO AWESOME TANS?

Morris himself writes in the New York Times:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination. Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence. Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

Morris interviews a friend named Tink Thompson, who wrote a book called Six Seconds in Dallas, and had come to some of the same conclusions as Morris about what he calls “an obsessive interest in the complexities of reality.”

This complexity is illustrated by (SPOILER ALERT — in case you want to watch the above video before reading this) the Umbrella Man, who explained that he was holding an umbrella as a kind of protest against Joseph Kennedy’s appeasement policies as the ambassador to the UK in 1938 and 1939, and that the umbrella was a reference to Neville Chamberlain. It just goes to show that even 50 years ago, people protesting had a tendency to greatly overestimate people’s capacity to know what the f*ck they’re talking about.

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