Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"JFK" (1992) Opening Credits--Oliver Stone, Director/Music by John Williams

"God help this country when someone sits at this desk who doesn't know as much about the military as I do"--President Dwight D. Eisenhower

"So, let us not be blind to our differences -- but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."--John Kennedy

Sometimes the opening credits or first scene of a film is the best thing you're going to get for your money. Such I believe is true of this bravura opening by Oliver Stone to his Cold War/Assassination Conspiracy opus, "JFK".

This film comes to mind for me because this of news reports and commentary about two major events that happened fifty years ago this week. On was a Farewell Address from the White House on January 17, 1961 of President Dwight Eisenhower. He warned the nation about the moral and spiritual threat that came from an unchecked "Military-Industrial Complex" that was growing and growing and consuming over half of the federal tax revenues at the end of his term. Eisenhower came into office as a hawk on defense but by his Second Term he saw the dangers of a protracted conflict with the Soviet Union in an atomic age. He began to temper his rhetoric about massive defense build-ups, which were becoming self-perpetuating far above the real dangers America faced.

The Military Industrial Complex speech came very late in his Presidency. The new leader, John F. Kennedy, also came in as a hawk and continued the CIA's plans to overthrow Fidel Castro's Cuba and practice brinkmanship with Moscow. As time wore on, and the Cuban Missile Crisis made clear, something other than force and more force in reserve was needed if any world--liberal capitalist or communist--was going to survive. JFK's famous speech at American University reached out to the Soviet Leader, NIkita Khrushchev. to find common humanity and for both empires to draw down jointly from the perils of a third and final world war.

Did JFK's speech create the last straw for some leaders within the government to view him as expendable? Did the "military-industrial complex" dispose of a President the way the Praetorian Guard of the Early Roman Empire disposed of the odd emperor they ceased to support? Did the loss of JFK bring a blank check to the Pentagon to ramp up a land war in Southeast Asia that the late President had expressed reservations about?

Oliver Stone seemed to think so. Many who don't buy his theories nonetheless cannot accept the relatively benign "lone gunman" theory into what happened in Dallas in November of 1963. Suffice to say we won;t ever know the answer in a way that will satisfy the curious. But let us put politics aside and see this opening as a prologue to those events.

Both "Ike" and Kennedy's speeches are excerpted in this opening. It's a masterful montage of narration, flash images, newsreel clips and stirring but ominous music, encapsulating one of the most important times in recent history,and one that still resonates within the American psyche with dreams deferred and queries about tragic events that will never be answered.


  1. John Kennedy delivering the Commencement Address at American University, 1963.

  2. I believe Kennedy was murdered by the Military/Industrial Complex. My husband always said that one shooter couldn't have done the deed from the forensic evidence. My husband believed that LBJ had Kennedy done so that he could be president.
    I thought I had seen this movie since we both liked watching whatever we could find on President Kennedy. Especially once we moved to Dallas, but even before that. I was never happy with the official explanation, but it was only feelings, no facts. It just doesn't feel right.
    Thanks, Doug. Another good movie to look for.

  3. Doug, I think it was telling that in 1976, after the final re-examination of the evidence, over 80% of the American public believed that some form of conspiracy had been responsible for killing Kennedy - but almost none wanted the government to expend the effort to find out the truth.

    Some things are best left unknown, I suppose.

    Who killed Kennedy? I sure don't know. If it was, indeed, a conspiracy, you can look at nearly a hundred different people and interest-groups, from the Cubans to the Mafia. While recent ballistics prove that there was a lucky-window of opportunity where the single bullet could have actually done what they say it did, the odds are long against it.

    Stone did no one any favors with his film (called 'Dances with Facts' by several reviewers) - as you said, above, sometimes the opening-credits are the best part of the film.

    It was certainly the case here.

  4. Your husband's solution is as good an explanation I think as any other, Jacquie.

    Personally I too don't buy the "official explanation" either.

    Seeing and walking around Daley Plaza in Dallas back in '92 (just before they started shooting the movie) on a unrelated trip just confirmed my feeling the bullets that killed Kennedy could have come from anywhere. It was much smaller than I had imagined and likely the fatal bullets came from behind the grassy knoll as from the Texas Schoolbook Depository.

    Several witnesses saw smoke rising from behind the wooden fence there. That's one of many aspects of reasonable doubt about the assassination, of which Jack Ruby's need to kill Oswald is also inexplicable to me.

    You're welcome.

  5. Yes, Will, I think we got as close as we could back with the Congressional sub-committee findings of a second shooter in the Plaza. The single-shooter folks went into overdrive after that. God forbid we have to accept the fact we a banana republic with an overdeveloped amount of armed forces.

    You're right--"the facts" are 4/5 of Americans realize they were lied to.

    A friend of mine who worked as a crime reporter in San Francisco told me once that if the police detectives can't find a immediate answer to a murder, they ask the obvious question: "Who would want this guy dead?" As you say, pick one group of another--LBJ, Pentagon, Mafia, Cubans--all kinds of motive was out there.

    I thought Stone's lionization of Jim Garrison was also a mistake. The guy let his emotions run away with him in the Guy Bannister case. That was a farce. The filmmaker dismissed too many other "motive groups".

    But the first six minutes was very good.

  6. I've speculated about that, and it might just seem a little too bizarre for public consumption~

    I respect what Jacquie's husband believes, but I don't think wanting to be president is a strong enough motive.

    "Official explanations" of many things are unacceptable to me. 9/11 for example.

  7. Yes, a lot of that Ruby business, and his ties to the mob, don't make me believe he was some kind of super patriot who wanted to spare Mrs. Kennedy a return trip to Dallas for Oswald's trial.

    I think the Warren Commission was the beginning of the end to credible acceptance of any kind of official reports.

  8. Sounds like a fascinating film Doug. Although I don't agree with the characterisation of Cuba in the opening credits, a casually received wisdom and subliminal message that had to be included in order to raise the money to make it I suppose and the publicity to exploit it.

    Having said that, I think it is interesting to see Hollywood reflecting upon the end of the 'human' era in US governance and politics.

    Both Eisenhower and Kennedy demonstrate an organic realism now completely eradicated from what I see of US politics....America no longer has a 'human' president but rather the living embodiment of the Corporate Person the country is run like a business from boardrooms and everything both Ike and JFK warned about has come to pass.

    I think one concept that is interesting to explore in high profile assassinations like those of Kennedy and King for example is that of "security stripping" which appears to be a secret service strategy when the demise of prominent Americans has been arranged in the past.

    I found that particularly interesting with regard to the morning and afternoon of 11 September 2001 with regard to George W Bush and what happened in Florida the previous day....all of which has been reported in the local and national press at the time and some of which is referenced in my own post from October 2007 ' My Pet (Scape)Goat-The Ghost President Part 2 of the Political Obituary of George W Bush'

    I would be interested in seeing this film which could either be a sign of introspection in the cultural production industry- or is it an example of manufactured dissent?.... That mirror image corollary of manufactured consent which limits the impact of loss of governmental credibility on the stakeholders who have profited from it.

    There's probably a doctoral thesis in this one film alone if it were to be deconstructed line by line, scene by scene, thanks for posting your review here Doug.

  9. Here is timely piece I discovered in the Cuban online newspaper Digital Granma International thought it made an unteresting and up-tp-the minute companion piece. http://www.granma.cu/ingles/international-i/21ener-Posada.html

    Synchronicity Doug :-)

  10. It's likely Cuba depiction might indeed have been part of the deal Stone and company made with Warner Communications. The director by the way has met with Zapatista leaders in Mexico and did a documentary about with Hugo Chavez so his interests in the Latin American left exceeds the depictions in this film.

    I afraid you right, AA. More and more our leaders seem to be held down from honestly and organically connecting with the electorate. Such frank remarks that these two leaders made in their own time would likely be impossible today.

    As to "manufacturing dissent"--I agree there is a sense we are getting a limited view of one successful film-maker's vision of the events of the early 60's. Stone's megaphone has been matched by the voices and writings of the Internet, so manufacture of media is less likely now that media is democratized. (Although it is also microscopic and balkanized messaging, compared to the influences on opinion one film like this can still command.)

    The film "JFK" garnered a great deal of attention in 1992--I think there was a longing tapped in the country for a cultural storyteller to bring us a popular counter-narrative to the whole unraveling of American society and foreign policy in the wake of Vietnam and the rise of military-industrial superiority. No matter if it was totally correct or not, the puzzle this single event in Dallas and its aftermath is a seminal moment in the corporate take-over of day to day politics.

    The film also inspired a revival of "assassination books" in America (of which I was not immune from examining). Stone greatest gift as a film-maker I think comes from these montage moments in "JFK" and "Nixon" when he captures history in a series of bold lightning strikes of over-sized personalities and the faces of ordinary Americans and their environs.

  11. Good grief I knew I was behind the times, but I never knew I was that far out of date Doug!

    This comes from being cloistered in an aardvarkian monastery deep in the Black Mountains for decades I suppose, although that never actually happened to me, but it would have been a great excuse if it had!

  12. It happens to the best of us, AA. I suddenly think back on a place I was living in or even a random film like this and realize the time has flown by!

  13. There is a great deal of strangeness linking Oswald with some type of Cuban organizations, including those sponsored by the FBI and CIA. A character named Floyd Bannister pops up a lot at this time and place; he was an supposedly ex-FBI man whose office address in New Orleans was on some of the leaflets Oswald passed out on the street in August of 1963.

    One month before the assassination Oswald was at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City trying to get a visa to travel back to the USSR via Cuba. For some reason, no photos of Oswald have ever been revealed of his goings and comings from the embassy. (Hard to believe it was not being monitored.)

    The exact motivations for all this bustling about by L H Oswald in the last few months of 1963--like where did he get this money to travel about and why did he start a one-man pro-Castro Committee in a den of anti-Castro groups-- is another reason that has never been explained with any satisfaction in relation to the Warren Report, or media outlets in the 1960's who likely dared not open up a can of worms that might lead most anywhere.

    We do know the CIA first turned to the Mafia to try and get help in eliminating Castro in the waning days of the Eisenhower Adminisitration.

    The amount of prosecutions and deportations of mob leaders by Kennedy's brother, Robert, from his perch at the Attorney General's Justice Department is another possibility in the "Who'd want to kill JFK?" literary subgenre. Two prominent mobsters--Sam Giancana and Johnny Rosselli--were killed shortly before either man could testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976. Their murders were never solved.

    Thanks for the link, AA. Felix Rodriguez of course was George HW Bush's close pal in his CIA Director days in the mid-70's.