Kevin Costner as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in the penultimate moments of Oliver Stone's "JFK", released in 1991.  November 22, 2008 marks the 45th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  (Photo: Warner Brothers)

Forty-Five Years Ago Tragedy, And Today, Oliver Stone's "JFK" Still Raises Questions

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
November 16, 2008

November 22, 1963 -- one of the most tragic and pivotal turning points in modern American history -- the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  While the Warren Commission of the 1970's conjured up the theory of a magic bullet being responsible for killing the first Catholic president in America, many Americans weren't buying the "magic bullet" theory or the lone gunman story.

Neither was filmmaker Oliver Stone.

Mr. Stone's 1991 epic film "JFK" literally raised hell, torpedoing the Warren Commission and the official story about the assassination in his electrifying film starring Kevin Costner as New Orleans prosecutor David Garrison, who unsuccessfully prosecuted businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy to commit murder of the president.  Months prior to the film's release in December 1991, the U.S. mainstream press wrote a torrent of stories relentlessly attacking the Academy Award-winning director for "speculating" about the events surrounding the murder of the president, claiming that Mr. Stone was blurring fact and fiction.

Oliver Stone's film concluded that based on the evidence supported by extensive investigations by Mr. Garrison and his office, eyewitness testimony, and the factual accounts compiled in two books (one by Jim Garrison, the other by Jim Marrs) there was more than one shooter in Dealey Plaza that fateful afternoon in November 1963.

Now, with the upcoming 45th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination and the 17th anniversary of the U.S. release of "JFK" on December 20, 1991, Mr. Stone's film leaves even more questions and provokes deeper thought now than it did then.  Mr. Stone may have since gone on to direct eight more feature films ("Heaven And Earth", "Natural Born Killers", "Nixon", "U-Turn", "Any Given Sunday", "Alexander", "World Trade Center" and "W."), but the questions about the assassination of the 35th President of the United States remain.  Despite the media hullabaloo, Mr. Stone's film was in part responsible for the passage of the 1992 Assassination Materials Disclosure Act.  The film won two Oscars that year, for editing (Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia) and cinematography (Robert Richardson).  John Williams, winner of multiple Academy Awards, did not win for his rousing score for Mr. Stone's film.

"JFK", for those who haven't yet seen it, is a riveting enterprise of fact, fiction, hypothesis and drama intertwined in three and a half hours (extended DVD version running time).  The Warner Brothers film is powerful, thought-provoking and challenging.  The extended version, or director's cut, contains scenes not in the original theatrical version (which ran approximately three hours and eight minutes).  "JFK" is more important a film than it is a controversial one, and watching the opening montage of archival news and documentary footage beginning with outgoing Republican president General Dwight D. Eisenhower giving his farewell address in January 1960, one gets a sense of the film's portent.  In his audio commentary on the extended director's cut DVD, Mr. Stone speaks of John F. Kennedy as being way ahead of his time.  In that vein, it is difficult to watch the film and listen to Mr. Stone's commentary today and not think about the new president-elect, making the viewing experience a little unnerving. 

Nonetheless, the film, and Mr. Stone's audio commentary, are highly fascinating.  Mr. Stone supplies some priceless additional information and background, detailing facts, evidence and thorough research and investigation that he and other figures closely involved with the events surrounding the assassination.  There's also numerous moments where the director expresses anger, indignation and contempt, such as in the following: "They (the government commission investigating Kennedy's assassination) write these reports eight years later and nobody gives a shit.  It's all bullshit.  And we pay for it.  And we pay for it through the nose.  They need somebody to get in there and fix that government!"

During the closing credits in the audio commentary, Mr. Stone admits that the crew flew by the seat of their pants in trying to get the film out by Christmas 1991, which they ultimately did, with a release of December 20, 1991.  It is actually during the course of the closing credits that Mr. Stone's commentary is impassioned and even moving.  Some of the very best moments of this extensive audio discourse come during the closing credits. 

On November 11, 2008, Veterans Day, the special director's cut of "JFK" was re-released, along with an new documentary by Barbara Kopple (called "Beyond JFK"), on Blu-Ray disc.  The same audio commentary on previous editions is included on the Blu-Ray disc.

Mr. Stone, who served in Vietnam himself during the war there, and directed "Platoon", a semi-autobiographical film, which won several Oscars in 1987, says during the closing credits: "This Kennedy murder has become our national taboo.  I pray it yet for my country to return into a fraction of the ideals of which it was birthed.  I love it as much as any man.  I served in its armed forces with some distinction.  But that's not to say that I'm a nationalist or a blind patriot . . .", then following this with a famous line by Teddy Roosevelt that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

"JFK" is a starting point for a mystery that has confounded historians and civilians alike for years.  The film is rich with historical references and information and on the somber anniversary of a traumatic, horrible event 45 years ago, is well worth revisiting.

(A clip from Mr. Stone's audio commentary for "JFK" appears below, courtesy of

"JFK", starring Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Walter Matthau, Sally Kirkland, John Candy, Wayne Knight, Vincent D'Onofrio, John Larroquette, Jim Garrison, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Donald Sutherland.

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