Film Reviews

JFK Oliver Stone

Rating - 6/10

To what end does a director bear responsibility for the veracity of his or her art?

For any director working with actualities, poetic or artistic license is both a gift and a curse. Positively applied, the director can craft specific nuances contoured to their story, whilst remaining faithful to the truth. Conversely, a director can also malign his or her work through license. Fictions can be altered into facts, facts disputed as fictions. Worse yet, a director can outright distort history to merely further their agenda.
 
Case in point, Oliver Stone’s bloated three-hour, all-star epic JFK (1991). Stone is no stranger to accusations of twisting history for his own benefit. In fact, he’s perhaps the modern poster boy. Alexander, Nixon and The Doors are just a select few of Stone’s works charged with historical obfuscation. Entire monographs have been published on the subject. Shortly after the release of JFK, Time magazine even published an article entitled “When Artists Distort History” analyzing the pros and cons of Stone’s approach to historical matter.
 
Equally, it can also be argued that artists have always utilized historical characters and events for their own means: The fall of Troy for Homer, Richard III for Shakespeare. Nevertheless, the fictionalization of history is a poisoned chalice. History can provide the raw inspiration for exciting, thought-provoking works. But go too far and the artist is liable to forever distort their historical template. For example, thanks to Shakespeare, Richard III will forever be associated with regicide and physical deformity, although the latter in particular has been rejected by modern historical scholars as artistic license gone astray.
 
Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Oliver Stone’s JFK is an example of historical redistribution. Upon its initial 1991 release, JFK forever changed the debate regarding the assassination of the thirty-fifth President of the United States in Dallas on November 22, 1963, particularly in Stone’s disputation of the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Yet, despite some convincing evidence much of Stone’s self-proclaimed “counter-myth” was simply that: myth.
 
Told in a persuasive cinematic language, Stone’s JFK heavily blurs the lines between noted facts and fictional liberties. In Stone’s opinion, this is acceptable.  In a 1997 conversation series at UC Berkeley, Stone argued his historical films are simply a dramatic interpretation of events. And perhaps he has a point. No historical feature film will ever be wholly accurate. Yet in JFK, Stone’s dramatic interpretation of history is problematic, partially because of its swollen design.
 
A bulging, cacophony of information, JFK is a thickly brewed synthesis of paranoid speculation and historical reconstruction. Based on two books, On The Trail of the Assassins by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, Stone’s film is not a biopic of the slain former President, but rather an amalgamation of various conspiracy theories regarding Kennedy’s highly public assassination. Subsequently, it is former New Orleans District Attorney Garrison (played by Kevin Costner), and not Kennedy, who becomes the film’s crucial focal point; as the film trails Garrison and his late 1960’s re-analysis of Kennedy’s assassination.
 
Using flashbacks, Stone also traverses through a multitude of alternative perspectives, recounted memories and possible histories. Via some clever editing, the film fuses genuine documentary footage alongside dramatic interludes, faux-archival footage and re-enactments of supposed historical events. Upon the film’s initial release, it was this side-by-side application of fact and fiction, which caused Stone’s film much controversy. Ironically, these questionable elements are also the driving source behind much of the film’s entertainment.
 
In equal measure this frenzied kaleidoscope of images and information  proves to be the film’s Achilles’ heel. There’s far too much crammed into JFK with little discretion toward the film’s overall direction. Unlike Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men (1975), a paranoid conspiracy thriller Stone’s JFK is clearly indebted to, there is no coherent framework here to express the multiple theories and people Stone’s film implicates in the assassination: ranging from the CIA to bitter anti-Castro Cuban-Americans to a clandestine underworld collective of right-wing homosexual hawks based in New Orleans.
 
Although the overarching theme Stone directs his attention toward is connected to Eisenhower’s famous military-industrial complex (replayed in the film’s opening), the web of possibilities lacks neither genuine connection, nor focus. Despite Stone’s passionate conviction about a hypothetical coup d’etat, JFK feels like an elongated rant, rather than a delicate re-evaluation and analysis of the facts.
 
The film’s overextended scope carries onto its cast of characters: some real, some composites, some invented. Each has a purpose, but often their relationship to the overall spectrum is murky and unconvincing. Gary Oldman’s Lee Harvey Oswald is particularly magnificent. Costner’s Garrison on the other hand is particularly troubling. Portrayed as the passionate, solitary Everyman dutifully defending American values, Garrison has the type of Capraseque, pious saintliness previously accorded to James Stewart’s Mr. Smith and Gary Cooper’s Mr. Deeds in their respective turns in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.
 
Tellingly, Stone makes scant attempt to dissect Garrison’s own personal and public troubles during the period. There are fleeting nods to his crumbling marriage and his dwindling staff, but the dark accusations of bribery and intimidation are passed off as purely lies prepared by Garrison’s enemies. Stone’s idealization of Garrison ultimately denies the film of a central protagonist as complex and intricate as its theories. Both the audience and the film deserve such an individual. Yet, the existence of such a flawed figure in JFK would surely be at odds with the opposing binary character traits visible between Stone's heroes and villains. And therefore, perhaps many would be less convinced by Stone’s barrage of data and invention and more repulsed by the film's underlying homophobia and brittle historicism.
 
Then again, by its overloaded, sagging final reels, JFK has long extirpated into bombastic sentimentality, speechifying and grand calls for justice. This should not be surprising. Despite Stone’s conspiracy credentials, he is overly vulnerable toward sweeping emotions and romanticism. The conspiratorial knife’s edge sharpened by Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing’s hyperkinetic editing and Robert Richardson’s seamless cinematography is unfortunately dulled in these dragging latter stages, as the early frenzied paranoia of JFK is undercut in favor of emotional gloss.
 
Taken as a speculative, paranoid thriller, JFK is often a riveting experience. As a historical docudrama, JFK is a dangerous vehicle to the uninitiated viewer. The film’s elephantine application of myths and hearsay into a binary format is both attractive and repulsive. The supporting characters are certainly colorful and the seductive language is often persuasive; yet the film also suppresses and distorts elements to satisfy Stone’s accusatory thesis, rather than allowing the facts to speak for themselves. Stone lionizes his protagonists as genuine harbingers of truth. But it is a fuzzy truth, a disingenuous truth. A “truth” made all the more ironic by the film’s apparent search for the truth.
 

Comments for JFK review

Right on

I frankly think this is kind of a tragedy because its one of the most riveting, well made thrillers I have ever seen, but it is riddled with discredited claim after discredited claim. I recently finished Posner's excellent "Case Closed" and its remarkable to see how much of Stone's film is built on air. And as you indicate it suffers from the OJ defense - throw a bunch of spitballs around to pick apart the prosecution theory and sow enough doubt to get your client off. I think he was much more successful using "historical interpretation" in Nixon, where much of what goes on is true, even if it didn't happen exactly like you see on screen or at that exact time. I loved JFK when it first came out, though I never really believed it, but now I find myself troubled at how sequences like the 'faked backyard photograph' are persusasive emotionally even though I know the whole thing is nonsense. It's the frightening power of images.

I think more focus should be

I think more focus should be paid to the film, not its historicity. It and Nixon (as well as The Doors) are all great films, and all depart from the truth. That's why it's art. Art is not truth.

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Art and Truth

I think you would find most artistic movements are in themselves an attempt to search, to locate or to expose some branch of truth. Virtually every cultural aesthetic movement of the 20th century was dedicated to this principle, whether it be via Brechtian distancing techniques or surrealist attempts to "liberate" people from false realities. Stone's cinematic route in JFK is a postmodernist attempt at exposing "the truth" behind the assassination of JFK through a series of persuasive images and a manipulative cinematic language.

As for the review, I feel I discussed the film's positives, negatives and stylistic features in detail. The problem with this film is that it cannot necessarily be disconnected from the hypocrisies regarding a "truth" it advocates; even though Stone himself has stated on commentaries and in interviews that there are several elements (characters, scenes etc) in JFK which are completely fictional, yet to the naive viewer are presented as actual events and individuals. As discussed in the review, this is problematic given Stone's presentation. Virtually every major critical review of JFK has had to deal with the veracity of Stone's historicism at some point, because Stone himself has made the film out to be an authentic interpretation, when it is mostly little more than a series of myths, fictions and rumours.

Contrast this with the film JFK is clearly most indebted to Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men: another historical film about a controversial political subject, which is spare, lean and entertaining; but also maintains a clear-cut presentation of the historical facts, rather than overloading the film with alternative scenarios and fictional subplots.

Gary

'I think you would find most artistic movements are in themselves an attempt to search, to locate or to expose some branch of truth. Virtually every cultural aesthetic movement of the 20th century was dedicated to this principle....'

Correct, which explains why criticism is nearly as bad as all the major art forms today: poetry, music, film, television, drama, painting, etc....

Not that it matters re: an opinion on the film, but JFK has gotten a bum rap re: its historicity. While Stone's claims are about a certain conspiracy, only the willfully ignorant buy the Warren Commission's utter fantasy.

http://www.cosmoetica.com/B122-DES73.htm

This is my 2nd most [popular feature- behind only a defense of It's A Wonderful Life]. To summarize, Zapruder and a number of other bits of evidence point to a conspiracy, and second gunman. Having seen people shot up close, simply put, the kill shot came from ahead of JFK. And I even link to a piece that had the science to prove it, despite the media's attempt to sway otherwise.

Of course, none of this affects the film, which is its own cosmos. But, given that there was a conspiracy, the film is closer to 'truth' than Warren is.

'The problem with this film is that it cannot necessarily be disconnected from the hypocrisies regarding a "truth" it advocates...'

Of course it can, you either would not or could not, and that fault is yours. I often point out what some boob- Pauline Kael, Bosley Crowther, Roger Ebert, etc.- wrote about a film that is wholly wrong, but I do not let their misperceptions color what is on the screen. In short, you always choose the tack you will use for a critique, or any writing. For good or ill, the pen stops with you.

'Virtually every major critical review of JFK has had to deal with the veracity of Stone's historicism at some point, because Stone himself has made the film out to be an authentic interpretation, when it is mostly little more than a series of myths, fictions and rumours.'

Gary, my dad used to tell me, 'Because everyone wants to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge doesn't mean you have to do it, too.' And my dad was no wise man.

The problem is that your take on the quality of the film is almost all about the veracity of the film rather than the editing, acting, screenwriting, etc., which (to use your bundling lingo) most critics noted was excellent.

Imagine someone, now, or 50 or 250 years from now, wanting to watch this film, with a vague knowledge of the 20th C., and what about the film (not history) would they have gleaned from the review? Your philosophic and political ideologies, yes, but anything to persuade them about the substance of the art? Not much. And I don't mean in the spoilers, non-spoilers vein.

Pakula's film is a good film: http://www.cosmoetica.com/B573-DES497.htm, but it's not, artistically, in a league w JFK. It's style with no substance. JFK has substance, it just does not square with your idea of what the substance should be- your version of the truth of the assassination.

'To what end does a director bear responsibility for the veracity of his or her art?'

To paraphrase you, 'To what end does a critic bear responsibility for the objectivity (or lack) of his or her criticism?'

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Oh well

I'm one of the woefully ignorant who thinks the Warren Commission got it exactly right. Something about verifiable evidence. I'm funny like that. For instance, the "evidence" you site for Kennedy's head taking a shot from the front is flimsy and falls apart under close examination, and with it any supposed second gunman conspiracy. Careful analysis of the Zapruder film shows that in fact Kennedy's head moves forward several inches upon impact and then moves back and to the left as the result of three factors
1) Kennedy's back harness which prevented excessive forward movement
2) The natural reaction of the body to stiffen as all nerves in the body seize up after a massive head trauma. This would have briefly forced him back naturally into a straighter position.
3) Most importantly, simple physics tells us that every action has a reaction. Kennedy's exit wound on the front right sight of his head exploded outward causing a massive force in the OPPOSITE direction - back and to the left.

Now that we've disposed of that, I would like to say that I am torn between admiring the artistry of the film and Stone's very clear and thoroughly misguided and under-researched intentions. Maybe it is a weakness on my part and it raises the question of how to treat art in this 'postmodern' environment, and how that differs from discerning what Mozart intended writing the 40th Symphony, ie there's no need to. But in the end, we don't have to guess because Stone's thesis is right there on the screen and he's asking us to buy it and so it's fair game, just like his fantastic editing and sound work, which is almost unparalleled today.

Alan

Alan: the link to the site in my JFK piece disposes of the fallacy that the shot was from behind. The claims that the head moved back because the shot was from the back were based on tests with assorted melons, not human bone. Anyone who has been shot will tell you that you move with the bullet's direction. Plus, there was the coroner who examined the exit wound in the rear, which was larger than that in the front. There was even skin and hair that was on a flap that came off. A rear wound, shot from the rear would not have made an exit flap. Zapruder proves the shot that killed JFK came from the front. Logic, common sense, and physics trump years of nonsense to the contrary.

But, again, if you want to believe the fantasy, that's well and good. It still has nothing to do with the film nor the review.

'Maybe it is a weakness on my part and it raises the question of how to treat art in this 'postmodern' environment, and how that differs from discerning what Mozart intended writing the 40th Symphony, ie there's no need to. But in the end, we don't have to guess because Stone's thesis is right there on the screen and he's asking us to buy it and so it's fair game, just like his fantastic editing and sound work, which is almost unparalleled today.'

Yes, it is a weakness. PoMo or not, criticism deals with the thing itself, not the externals. If Stone were gay, could there be a homoerotic subtext to the assorted handlings of rifles in the film? Not likely, but one cam always read into something anything they want. It's fair game to state that one agrees or not with Stone's version of the evidence, but that has nothing to do with whether that works or not dramatically within the art. The review made no such distinction, and saw the art as wanting because of the beliefs (prejudiced) of the critic aforehand.

That's the point, not whether he, you, or I agree or not on the historical record, which is aside and apart from the film.

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The review itself

I think each individual viewer should be free to determine their own opinion as to the importance of historical accuracy in any film, and I don't think there's anything wrong with Gary's approach to this review. Dan clearly has differing opinions re: JFK, but I don't think it's reasonable to suggest a failing on Gary's part for commenting on the lack of attention to historical fact here. If he had condemned JFK for this reason alone, then fair enough, but Gary provides more than adequate discussion of "the film's positives, negatives and stylistic features" in his review.

Guest

'Gary provides more than adequate discussion of "the film's positives, negatives and stylistic features" in his review.' Herein some quotes from the review:

-historical obfuscation. Entire monographs have been published on the subject. Shortly after the release of JFK, Time magazine even published an article entitled “When Artists Distort History” analyzing the pros and cons of Stone’s approach to historical matter.

-Nevertheless, the fictionalization of history is a poisoned chalice.

-an example of historical redistribution

-bulging, cacophony of information, JFK is a thickly brewed synthesis of paranoid speculation and historical reconstruction

-Although the overarching theme Stone directs his attention toward is connected to Eisenhower’s famous military-industrial complex (replayed in the film’s opening), the web of possibilities lacks neither genuine connection, nor focus. Despite Stone’s passionate conviction about a hypothetical coup d’etat, JFK feels like an elongated rant, rather than a delicate re-evaluation and analysis of the facts.

-Stone makes scant attempt to dissect Garrison’s own personal and public troubles during the period. There are fleeting nods to his crumbling marriage and his dwindling staff, but the dark accusations of bribery and intimidation are passed off as purely lies prepared by Garrison’s enemies.

-perhaps many would be less convinced by Stone’s barrage of data and invention and more repulsed by the film's underlying homophobia and brittle historicism

-As a historical docudrama, JFK is a dangerous vehicle to the uninitiated viewer. The film’s elephantine application of myths and hearsay into a binary format is both attractive and repulsive. The supporting characters are certainly colorful and the seductive language is often persuasive; yet the film also suppresses and distorts elements to satisfy Stone’s accusatory thesis, rather than allowing the facts to speak for themselves.

Guest, there simply is no way that anyone could objectively claim that these represent an adequate, much less fair and reasoned approach to the film. Look at all the negative modifiers, and generally about things regarding the historical record, not the film.

This is why my first comment was brief, and to the point: 'I think more focus should be paid to the film, not its historicity. It and Nixon (as well as The Doors) are all great films, and all depart from the truth. That's why it's art. Art is not truth.'

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By the way

No one in the operating room even lifted JFK's head to examine it at Parkland Hospital, as the testimony from everyone there indicates. There was no exit wound on the back of his head as the autopsy photos clearly indicate. There was a small entry wound. Maybe you believe that the photos were retouched with some sort of magic process available in 1963 (since its very simple to determine if photos were retouched by examining the grain at high magnification), but if so , please don't lecture me about living in a fantasy world. If that's not enough, than the Xrays of his head show the same thing. If you're aware of a way to fake Xrays I'd love to here about it.

Two doctors claimed they saw an exit wound in the back of the head. One was a junior resident who was in the operating room for one minute and was in no position to examine the body closely (other witnesses don't even remember him being there) and the other was not located behind JFKs head but on the other side of the table, and he claimed to see a piece of cerebelum on the table (which would indicate a large rear wound), but in fact it was not cerebelum but other brain matter and his claim is contradicted by every other witness who clearly state that JFKs head was never turned over since they were operating frantically on the neck to get him air in a vain attempt to save him.

Sorry, those are the well-documented facts.

"'The problem with this film

"'The problem with this film is that it cannot necessarily be disconnected from the hypocrisies regarding a "truth" it advocates...'

Of course it can, you either would not or could not, and that fault is yours."

- What about a film like Griffith's "Birth of a Nation?" You would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to simply take the film as a historical docudrama without having to take it to account the gross manipulation of history. It isn't that I agree or disagree with Stone's viewpoint, my issue was with the manner by which Stone attempted to convey his message.

Imagine someone, now, or 50 or 250 years from now, wanting to watch this film, with a vague knowledge of the 20th C., and what about the film (not history) would they have gleaned from the review? Your philosophic and political ideologies, yes, but anything to persuade them about the substance of the art? Not much. And I don't mean in the spoilers, non-spoilers vein.

I don't think the review expresses anything about my ideological beliefs. All I have suggested in the introduction is that there is a long artistic tradition of manipulating history going back to Ancient Greece. JFK, for better or worse,i s part of that tradition. I believe it is important to place films within their socio-cultural context and that substance transcends more than just acting, direction, production etc. Therefore in JFK, Stone's utilization of history is an overwhelming component of the film's substance. But as I stated in the review, JFK is at times entertaining and riveting, but it has its drawbacks. These flaws are not simply found in its historical outlook, but also in its bloated persona, its struggle to connect the varying narratives into a coherent framework, its one-dimensional characters and so forth. I do think in 50 years from now the application of history in Stone's film will be important, in the same way that the substantial portrayal of history in Gone With the Wind is today one of the film's key critical talking points.

Gary/Guest

I'll assume Guest one was someone other than Gary, lest Gary talks of himself in the third person.

Anyway, let me first state, while I disagree with the qualitative assessment of the film, I would disagree with the film review even were it to praise the film for its historicity. Why? Because, as I said, a viewer, years from now, with no, or little, knowledge of the events, won't give a damn of the historical escapade. I had a similar argument on another website over a historical film: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2007/07/26/070302.php

The difference was that film- Night & Fog- was a documentary, not a work of fiction. Nowhere does Stone ever claim his film is a documentary, nor even a verisimilitude. Docs- as works of journalism, owe more to truth, which is why Michael Moore is not a documentarian, but a propagandist.

Gary: 'What about a film like Griffith's "Birth of a Nation?" You would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to simply take the film as a historical docudrama without having to take it to account the gross manipulation of history. It isn't that I agree or disagree with Stone's viewpoint, my issue was with the manner by which Stone attempted to convey his message.'

Look at your choice of words- docudrama. No, of course not. But it is a historical drama. Therein the difference. And, aside from the technical difference in the terms, Stone's film is far closer to reality than Griffith's. But, again, the point is the review. What would that future potential viewer of the film think of it beforehand? They would know far more about you than the film, despite stating, 'I don't think the review expresses anything about my ideological beliefs.'

C'mon. I picked out 8 substantial quotes that show eminent bias: obfuscation, poisoned, historical redistribution, bulging, cacophony, thickly brewed synthesis of paranoid speculation and historical reconstruction, elongated rant, dark accusations of bribery and intimidation, underlying homophobia and brittle historicism, myths and hearsay into a binary format is both attractive and repulsive, accusatory thesis, and more. Anyone with a reasobale education can sense the emotional hostility you bear. My point is not that you cannot feel that way, simply that it offers nothing of a qualitative assessment of the art. I- or the potential viewer in times hence, are not going to care of your political nor philosophic beliefs, but in your artistic interpretation and analysis of things like the screenplay and dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, etc. Ther are certainly poor aspects of the film- Donald Sutherland's lame Deep Throat character is utterly pointless, and the film could be cut and tightened 10-15% because it loses focus in reiterating claims a few dozen times. These are the things thta matter to a viewer, not if you agree with Stone, or think him a madman.

I recently reviews W.: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/10/26/132543.php , a film nowhere as good as JFK, but mu criticism of the film was based on its serious lack of qualities of merit, not anything to do with my view of the real life man.

'I believe it is important to place films within their socio-cultural context and that substance transcends more than just acting, direction, production etc.'

And that's a point to be made. The problem is that the review did not transcend the points mentioned, it extirpated them, as if they were wholly irrelevant, and not even worth broaching.

'These flaws are not simply found in its historical outlook, but also in its bloated persona, its struggle to connect the varying narratives into a coherent framework, its one-dimensional characters and so forth. I do think in 50 years from now the application of history in Stone's film will be important, in the same way that the substantial portrayal of history in Gone With the Wind is today one of the film's key critical talking points.'

And those points should have been highlighted more. As for GWTW, like Birth Of A Nation, its transgressions are far more egregious than JFK's, but, even were it not, I would still object to a review that talked only of the historical and racial nonsense than the actors, the technique, etc. I recently reviewed Casablanca- http://www.cosmoetica.com/B770-DES628.htm- and wrote of some of the historical inaccuracies (as well as logical), but I also went on of the acting, the misinterpretation by other critics, etc. Had I only written of Roger Ebert's hatred for Paul Henreid, I could not legitimately have called the piece a review of Casablanca. Now, had this piece been called 'An Analysis of the Historicity (or Lack) in Oliver Stone's JFK' I would not have commented, for the reader would have gotten that advertised. This 'review' did not do that.

One can have a forceful view in criticism- in fact, it's what separates the Wildes, Twains, Bierces, Parkers, Menckens, etc. from those critics no one recalls, but it is needed to remain on focus with the task at hand, an analysis of the art, not the critic.

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Above Comments

Sorry, the above comments were posted by myself. I forgot to log-in, so sorry for any confusion there as to who the author of those comments were.

Can we really say

that the ideology or viewpoint any work of art espouses is not free game for criticisim? Dan, you say we should just deal with the "art", but aren't Stone's suppositions part of the film and therefore the art? Gary's point about it being somewhat incoherent are right on the money. I loved it when I first saw it because it has a brilliant visceral impact, like many of his films, but start thinking about it and you're forced to face the question, "so what does he think really happened"? And this is where all the wonderfuly filmed and edited strands start to crumble. And if you're relying on the narrative of Garrison's personal struggle against the odds then you are relying on the weakest part of the film, since that's about as hokey as Stone gets. And its further dispicable that Stone hires Costner to make Garrison sympathetic, when the real Garrison was not exactly Jimmy Stewart - and he does it to once again slander Clay Shaw who was caught up in Garrison's web once already and died a broken man as a result.

We are not talking about Tristan and Isolde here, a work of art completely unrelated to Wagner's anti-semiticism. The poisonous, wrong-headed, half-baked ideas are right there on the screen for the critic to poke holes in. I say, have at it.

Alan

'the ideology or viewpoint any work of art espouses is not free game for criticisim? Dan, you say we should just deal with the "art", but aren't Stone's suppositions part of the film and therefore the art?'

Yes and no. If Stone's ideology made the film a raging screed against a certain person, or was slanderous, or made the film a piece of unrealistic twaddle- like Deliverance, then, yes. But, Gary's piece did not. There is no sense of the major players' acting ability, no idea of- well, many of the items previously mentioned. In short, if the ideology makes the work poor- such as a Marxist interpretation of Bambi, then it's fair game, but only to the extent that it affects the film. If a Marxist Bambi were sprung on the public, I'm open to hear how it denigrated the tale, but I don't really need a lesson in Communist aggression throughout the last two centuries. Again, look at the quotes I selected from Gary's piece, and the modifiers. This simply isn't analysis, but more of the rant that Gary accuses Stone of deploying in the film. Similarly, Feminist interpretation sof X, or Marxist interpretations of Y, or Christian interpretations of Z, almost always fail because 1) they are long overreaches, and 2) they place one aspect of the film significantly above others, and usually due only to the critic's predilections, not the art. I am not espousing a New Critical approach that says no context is available for a crit, but Gary's beliefs (pro or con) on the JFK assassination have little to do with Stone's film. If Stone's film fails to dramatically engender its claims as true, or the claims tamp down the art, that's valid, but from his opening sentence, Gary's review shows that this is not in the offing.

'but start thinking about it and you're forced to face the question, "so what does he think really happened"?'

I disagree. It's clear that Stone denies the Warren version, and the film clearly hypothesizes. The Costner character is not even certain. This equivocation actually aids the drama. After all, we know JFK dies, so the only drama is the probe. And, Stone realizes that fellatio is best with wet tongue right before the load is shot. Thus, we never know what 'really' happened- in reality or Stone's cosmos, and are left to fill in the gaps, ourselves. The very query you ask, 'what does he think really happened' is a sign of the success of the film, cuz Stone gets the viewer to think, not accept anyone's version- including his. In short, he DOES NOT condescend. He does, in W., unfortunately.

'And its further dispicable that Stone hires Costner to make Garrison sympathetic, when the real Garrison was not exactly Jimmy Stewart - and he does it to once again slander Clay Shaw who was caught up in Garrison's web once already and died a broken man as a result.'

And now you reveal your bias- not a word of this sentence has any critical relevance to the film.

'The poisonous, wrong-headed, half-baked ideas are right there on the screen for the critic to poke holes in. I say, have at it.'

As they say in tennis. Game, set, match.

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Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

Can you be serious?

Do you mean that a film like Triumph of the Will should only be viewed in terms of skilled camerawork and editing, etc.? Forget the fact that it glorifies Nazis? That's not a fair subject for criticism? I hope I'm not making a strawman out of you, but that's what it sounds like. Why wouldn't Stone's glorification of a fairly pathetic individual matter? You call it bias, but there's a well-documented history here, with facts and stuff like that. The only way I think you can draw something positive out of all the pieces Stone throws at the screen is as a postmodern fairy tale in the Pynchon-ian mode, as in Gravity's Rainbow or The Crying of Lot 49, where vast conspiracies are hinted at and alleged but the strands don't cohere and so we are left with a peculiarly modern angst in which our institutions have failed us or are overwhelmed by unforeseen powerful forces. This makes great fiction, but is that what Stone is trying to do? If so, then I agree, this is a thoroughly successful masterwork. If it was, like Nixon, an attempt at what I'll call Dramaticized History, then its a thoroughly flawed masterwork.

Yes

But that film is also propaganda. Despite yours and Gary's claims, JFK does not veer near the Birth of a Nation, much less Riefenstahl/Michal Moore league agitprop. Plus, Triumph of the Will was not a fictive film. JFK is/was. Again, Stone has NEVER claimed that his film was a documentary, and always stated that this was a guess of his, as to what may have happened.

Alan, it simply is not as difficult a thing to recognize as you seem to want to make it.

'Why wouldn't Stone's glorification of a fairly pathetic individual matter? You call it bias, but there's a well-documented history here, with facts and stuff like that.'

First off, while Garrison was not saint, he's hardly as dubious as many of the individuals the film rightly impugns. But, again, you are straying from the film and Gary's review in going here.

I could just as easily veer this convo off into your naive belief that there was no second gunman, there was no conspiracy- despite Zapruder, and despite a known low level Mafioso silencing Oswald before he could talk; and no anti-conspiracist has ever adequately explained away the Oswald-Ruby connection, and Ruby's known ties w Mafiosi from Dallas to New Orleans. Simply put, there was OBVIOUSLY a hit put out. Only the who behind it remains. Personally, I think Stone's thesis of the CIA, etc. is silly. Having known gangsters, the hit and coverup all reek of the Mob. But, unless you are willing to believe that Ruby offed Oswald because he felt bad for Jackie Kennedy. But, since you're so up on facts, I'm sure you recognize this.

Back to the matter at hand, though:

'This makes great fiction, but is that what Stone is trying to do? If so, then I agree, this is a thoroughly successful masterwork.'

Again, Stone has NEVER claimed it was anything but his fictionalized stab at things. Google such online, or watch the DVD features.

Clearly, both you and Gary have emotional investments in this film that go way beyond an objective critique. As I suggested earlier, though, labeling solves this problem- call the piece an analysis of whatever bugbear you or he bear; just don't label it a review.

--
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Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

I like that everybody seems

I like that everybody seems to agree that the film is pretty great, and that seems to be the platform for debating making great movies that bend the truth that are confusing.

Personally, I was never interested enough (except when riveted by this film) in the assassination quagmire to take personally Stone's skillful advancing of his personal inclinations using the artificial language of "truth".

I don't think we should completely discount the context or honesty of a work, but it is pretty subordinate to me to its actual quality and passion, which Stone was at his peak with here. I don't mind the discussion, but if I covered this, Stone's artistry would have forced me to bump up the rating a bit.

Then again, I think Reifenstahl is one of the greatest film-makers who ever lived, despite the abhorrent messages, effects and intent behind Triumph of the Will and Olympia.

I've struggled with this

in my own mind for a long time and have come to the (very personal) conculsion that it matters not only how an artist says something, but what they are saying. Maybe I take some cues from Lester Bangs, who lit into Dylan for his absurd mafia mythmaking in "Joey" and praised the Clash for being "righteous", and insisted that it mattered. I believe you seperate the art from the artist and so I think you can be objectively review a Woody Allen film outside of his odd home situation. You might even enjoy Charles Mansons songs, providing they are not about stabbing starlets. But I also think that anything that a filmmaker puts up on the screen is fair game. This is where it helps for the critic to be informed about subjects outside his supposed realm of expertise

Guest (Gary, Mr. X?)

'it matters not only how an artist says something, but what they are saying.'

What they are saying is their philosophy, how they say it is their art. When reviewing a work of art, it is the art that matters, not the artist's message. In short, intent means nothing. The intentional fallacy is one of the great bugbears of art, because it is ultimately unknowable to all but the artist, and even artists can be unaware of their real motives.

'But I also think that anything that a filmmaker puts up on the screen is fair game. This is where it helps for the critic to be informed about subjects outside his supposed realm of expertise.'

If it's about the art, not the supposed intent. But, even with that, I could puncture as many holes in yours or Alan's ideas about the 'real' JFK killing as you could about Stone's films. But that Mobius loop teaches nothing about the deeper meaning the film brings to bear- about obsession (Garrison's and others) and the way ittears at some. In fact, most critics miss that the main thrust of the film was Garrison's failure, not due to his ideas- right or wrong, but his reckless pursuit of them at all odds to his own personal happiness.
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The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
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www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

That was me,

not Gary up there. Sorry about that.

But I totally disagree that the main thrust of Stone's film is Garrison's "reckless pursuit of them at all odds to his own personal happiness". If that were the case why would he end the film with Costner looking straight into the camera and saying "the rest is up to you"? He's imploring us to continue his quixotic quest, not warning against it. This is of course the weakest moment of the film since it reveals it to be heavy-handed (well-made) propoganda.

Alan

Do you really think Stone is that bad a filmmaker to actually have his character announce his flaws and apologize. An obsessive will keep going. You are not separating the diegetic characterization from the artistic impulse of the film.

Would Moby-Dick have been more of a warning against obsession had Ahab, right before going under, shouted, 'Shit, what a fool I've been!'

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

George

'Then again, I think Reifenstahl is one of the greatest film-makers who ever lived, despite the abhorrent messages, effects and intent behind Triumph of the Will and Olympia.'

You just displayed the difference between liking and disliking something, and objectively recognizing its quality, or lack.

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

It's not something I'm

It's not something I'm perfect with. Sometimes if I find something really personally offensive, or the message just bugs me in a particular way, I will dismiss some of its quality because I don't want to like it. Also, when I really like the message of something, I'm more likely to forgive or gloss over its aesthetic or thematic flaws. A little of this isn't necessarily bad. I think "objectivity" in criticism and art is a destructive phantom to prioritize. You can never completely achieve it, and if you work too hard at it you risk scrubbing your own work clean of whatever passion or perspective that might make your critique unique or interesting.

I just try to be aware of it, and check myself if I'm letting my own issues with content or message blind me to the quality of the art. I used to be a lot more contrarian, and looking back I think it really warped my opinion of many things. I don't like it when propaganda is thrown out the window for what it is saying, partly because I think most great art is propaganda for something. I also don't like being made to sit through unimaginative, sloppily compiled documentaries because the message is so important.

I always liked that Ebert quote "a movie isn't about what its about, its about how its about". I'm not trying to be perfect, but I try to work my way closer to that philosophy as time goes on.

Guest

'I think "objectivity" in criticism and art is a destructive phantom to prioritize. You can never completely achieve it, and if you work too hard at it you risk scrubbing your own work clean of whatever passion or perspective that might make your critique unique or interesting.'

This is called the self-limiting fallacy- the belief that one's own limits are the limits of everyone or anyone else. You may not be able to be objective, but objectivity is no more a phantom to everyone than mere cogitation is. Art is not what is at issue here, criticism is.

'I don't like it when propaganda is thrown out the window for what it is saying, partly because I think most great art is propaganda for something.'

Nonsense. Art is communication. Art is a verb, not a noun, in this sense. Ebert almost got it correct, but, as usual, he missed.
--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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