More noise than signal

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

JFK sees Oliver Stone take on the assassination of John Kennedy by the Coward Lee Oswald – or was it? Not if you listen to Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney who, after being dissatisfied with the Warren Report’s take on things, launches an investigation into the shadowy conspiracy to kill JFK, and the alleged reasons for it, and the real guilty parties in this affair, Joe Pesci’s David Ferrie and Tommy Lee Jones’ Clay Shaw, not Gary Oldman’s Lee Harvey Oswald, who’s just a patsy.

And, well, so it goes, and I’m not going to dignify Jim Garrison’s ramblings with the dignity of a recap even in order to debunk them – there’s no shortage of resources already out there for that. There’s an instructive quote from Stone, who at the time knew little of either the actual facts or the conspiracy research about the JFK assassination, about reading Jim Garrison’s memoirs, along the lines that it read like a whodunit, and that as a dramatist, that excited him.

Y’know what, as dispassionately as I can manage, he’s right. It’s a hell of a story, and Oliver Stone knows how to put a film together. Even for a three hour plus film, it bombs along at pace and doesn’t feel stretched, and with a cast list the likes that he has gathered here, it’s tough to go wrong – Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, John Candy all make for an engaging bunch of supporting acts, and Kevin Costner is excellent in the role as the pure as the driven snow, selfless defender of liberty and the American Dream, Jim Garrison.

Of course, the problems stem from Jim Garrison being a complete fruitcake. I consider JFK conspiracy theorists at best, swivel-eyed lunatics. In the community of JFK conspiracy theorists, Jim Garrison is considered a swivel-eyed lunatic. This may give some indication of my general feeling about Jim Garrison, and despite many people warning Stone about the quite blatant inaccuracies, distortions and flat out confabulations in Garrison’s “investigation”, he seems to have managed to take up residence entirely in Stone’s blind spot, because it’s a story he wants to tell, that fits in with his existing worldview.

I first watched Olly Stone’s JFK over a decade after its release at what I then naively though was a high water mark in terms of general belief in nut job conspiracy theories – 9/11, mainly, but also anti-vaccination, chemtrails and all that garbage. I was angry that people were so credulous, and watching Oliver Stone – someone who self identified as a “cinematic historian” – blithely regurgitate these already roundly debunked, nonsensical theories, many of which are trivial to disprove, was hugely disappointing and infuriating to me then, and not much less so now.

Look, I get it. I don’t take the word of the government on face value either. But there comes a point when you have to accept all the actual documented evidence of Oswald’s guilt, and the exhaustive studies and experiments that all prove that, contrary to the plucked from the air statements presented in here, that the injuries sustained, the technique, the location and Oswald’s metal state are all consistent with the official line, no matter how discomforting it is that one random nut with better than average aim and a gun can kill the most powerful man in the world. It’s not any less discomforting to realise that one random nut with a gun can kill dozens at a school, or a church.

To some it’s more reassuring to think that all things are controlled by a hyper competent cabal of the self interested in government. Although oddly the people with those beliefs also seem to be the ones who least believe in any government branch having any competence at all. At any rate, Stone’s JFK wallows in its own self-deceptions and misunderstandings, and is at best misguided and encourages people down the path of being open minded to the points of their brain falling out. As such I certainly cannot condone or recommend it, although, and it pains me to admit it, it’s a really well made film that if it had been a work of fiction, well, I’ll rephrase that, if it had been about a fictional character, I’d most likely have unreservedly enjoyed.

Oh, and that entirely invented, slandering the dead, gay orgy scene? It’s inclusion is perhaps the most disgusted I’ve been by any film. Stone, or more likely Garrison has some serious issues.