Stone’s Throw to Consequence in JFK

DATELINE: Movie History Literally

 Kirkwood's Grotesque  

Twenty-five years after Oliver Stone’s conspiratorial extravaganza, with more Kennedy assassination documents released weekly, it may be time to re-consider JFK.

The movie has become legend—and now checks in at a length worthy of Ben Hur or Lawrence of Arabia. Yet, that still is not enough.

The movie is the ultimate docudrama, providing theory and re-enactments about the death of an American president in Dallas in 1963. Many of the arcane details that made Stone’s movie seem fantastic have become ingrained into the epitome of fake news turned into fake history. As Pontius Pilate once succinctly put it, “What is truth?”

Stone takes the same approach as Jim Garrison: he uses the system to present ideas, in some ways abusing the process and going outside the usual parameters.

Oliver Stone went for the sensational: casting the most minor roles with notable, famous actors. It gave credence to the view that many people, especially celebrities, agreed with his perspective of the facts. He believed Clay Shaw was an assassin’s conspirator.

On top of that, he even cast the aging Jim Garrison as Chief Justice Earl Warren interviewing Jack Ruby in his prison cell shortly before his fateful death from cancer. Tommy Lee Jones made a dandy Shaw, and Kevin Bacon sizzled as the ersatz Russo.

Garrison’s conspiracy case against Clay Shaw, New Orleans businessman with a salacious private life, was built on reports from Perry Russo, who died in 1995 shortly after the movie was released. But, the Russo character turned to stone, or a pillar of salt, suddenly called Willie O’Keefe, a gay hustler who put Lee Oswald into the maelstrom of New Orleans double agent gay life. Russo always claimed he was maligned, but not by his associations.

Whether the connected dots actually mean there was conspiracy, or just coincidental dots connecting, may never be known with witnesses wiped out by accidents, murders, illness, and mystery deaths over the decade after the Kennedy assassination.

We are far more likely today to accept a movie as our historical reference than ever before. With that, Oliver Stone’s well-produced film gains credence. The viewing public who won’t read history are clearly condemned to accept re-enactments in a movie.

Garrison’s case was a case of self-delusion, or invisible and secret government sabotage.

Our friend Jim Kirkwood covered the original trial and befriended Clay Shaw, but Jim always had a penchant and soft spot for killers and those accused of unsavory acts. He called his book on Clay Shaw and Jim Garrison by the appropriate title of American Grotesque.

When we tried to bait him over drinks about the Clay Shaw case in the 1980s, he wouldn’t bite. It left us uneasy then, and later when the JFK movie came out, we were confounded. Jim Kirkwood was gone to the undiscovered country and so was his insider knowledge.

Today, when the latest documents hint at deeper, uglier, unpleasant details, we wish Jimmy Kirkwood were still here to see us dangle on the hook of conspiracy.

Stone’s JFK throws us for a loop still.

Dr. William Russo has written two timely books: Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony, on Kirkwood’s life, and Booth & Oswald, on the assassins.

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50% Chance of Snowden

DATELINE:  Paul Revere or Benedict Arnold?

snowden

Only the redoubtable Oliver Stone would dare to take a story filled with blanks and replace them with carte blanche in the political conundrum, Snowden.

Edward Snowden, former CIA and NSA operative, turned over a cachet of documents to the media—and now resides in Moscow as the Man without a Country, 21st century version.

Hero, scapegoat, or nutcase, Snowden leaves ambiguity in his personal wake, turned into whatever the reader wants to make of it. His wake is most desired by the military-industrial lobby.

We remain skeptical that a man with no formal education could rise to the top of American security. When asked about it in the film, he answers he is self-taught. He passed all those government aptitude tests with flying colors—which ought to raise a flag or two.

There is much to admire about Snowden—if we overlook his emotional problems treated with medications (but not enough to remove him from sensitive material).

We might agree his brilliant mind overwhelmed his mentors and teachers in the intelligence/oxymoron community. He seemed to lack a sense that he was surrounded by extremely dangerous people.

Oliver Stone always populates his film world with extraordinary performers like Timothy Olyphant, Nicholas Cage, Scott Eastwood, Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson, and Zachary Quinto. They more than fittingly support Joseph Gordon-Levitt who can provide the proper sympathy for Stone’s central figure.

The actual Edward Snowden appears at the film’s end in Moscow, obviously giving credence and blessing to the project of Oliver Stone’s direction and writing.

If Snowden is the new Paul Revere, these nouveau redcoats will catch him sooner than later. Recent reports are that Putin may turn him over to Trump to curry favor with the new POTUS. The deadly forces of spy networks may never let it come to that if this movie has any currency.