Oliver Stone on JFK Revisited: “Check out the damn documentary and shut up!”.
Of all the films Stone, 75, made – including his Vietnam War sagas train and Born on July 4theach of which earned him an Oscar for best director – JFK is the one he still gets the most mail about.
Oliver Stone published it thirty years ago JFK, his fiery three-hour dramatization of the truth and conspiracy surrounding the murder of President John F. Kennedy. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, won two, and became the biggest hit of its career. “This film, I don’t think we will forget it,” he tells me about Zoom. “Even if I cease to exist tomorrow. I think it’s out there. And people will always refer to it. I don’t think it’s dead. “
It is also the one for whom he has been the most attacked in some media outlets for introducing the public to theories about the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, when the president was shot to death while on a motorcade through downtown Dallas. Theories like killer Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, and forces within the US government instigated the murder.
Three decades later, Stone is back on the trail, this time with a tough documentary. JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass. “One of the reasons I made the film was in 2013 for the 50th anniversary [of JFK’s murder], there was no cover for alternative thinking. Throughout all the networks it was a kind of empty uniformity. It was annoying. I said, ‘Let’s try to record the facts as we left them.’ “
Stone’s relationship with mainstream US media has never been the same since JFK. He felt himself the target of “a thousand and one vultures out there crouching on their rocks”. He wasn’t wrong.
The esteemed newscaster Dan Rather tore himself into the movie on CBS. Newsweek went with the headline: “Why You Can’t Trust Oliver Stone’s New Movie”. and The New York TimesTom Wicker was ruthless: “It treats matters that are wholly speculative as fact and truth, and practically rewrites history.”
While JFK focused on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) and his attempts to hold businessman Clay Shaw accountable for his role in the conspiracy, Stone’s protagonist was widely discredited, which did not help. As Anthony Summers, author of conspiracyHe wrote that the garrison investigation “has long been recognized as grotesque, misguided mess by practically everyone, including serious scholars who believe there has been a conspiracy.”
Stone’s new documentary re-searches the evidence to avoid using Garrison as his channel. In particular, the Assassination Records Review Board – which was set up in the wake of Stone’s 1991 film – has 60,000 documents from the FBI, CIA, House Select Committee on Assassinations, and the Warren Commission – the body set up to investigate Kennedy’s assassination – Approved.
“They did a good job, but they didn’t get very far because after five years there was no money,” says Stone. Since then, “concerned citizens” like Kennedy historian Mary Ferrell, author James Douglass, and JFK revisited Screenwriter James DiEugenio, who has written several books on the subject, has been investigating the case on an ongoing basis. “We couldn’t handle everything we know,” says Stone. “But at least it is important to bring the tip of the iceberg to the public.”
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Sutherland (who found the mysterious government official Mr. X in JFK) the arguments are undeniably compelling as Stone speaks to historians, writers, and professionals in forensics, ballistics, and medicine. From manipulating the fatal bullet that killed Kennedy to manipulating photographic autopsy evidence, there is no area of the case that cannot be scrutinized by Stone’s list of experts ready to be put on record.
Remarkably dismantled is the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, one of which killed Kennedy. “As in the original movie, it’s impossible to believe he was the sniper,” says Stone. “Because there were so many reasons not to. We have very strong evidence … it wasn’t disclosed by the Warren Commission that he wasn’t even on the sixth floor to take the picture. “
As described in Barry Ernest’s 2013 book The girl on the stairs: The search for a missing witness in the JFK assassination attempt, there have been eyewitness testimony from Elizabeth Adams, a secretary who worked in the same building, contradicting the findings of the Warren Commission. Her statement that Oswald could not have been on the sixth floor was supported by her colleague Saundra Styles and her supervisor Dorothy Garner.
“These three secretaries [delivered]very important testimony that was then ignored by the Warren Commission, ”says Stone. It later disappeared – forever.
At one poignant moment in the film, Stone interviews Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the son of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy, who was also murdered in 1968. “Robert was very eloquent about his father,” says Stone, who phoned Kennedy Jr.’s father right after the Dallas incident. “The first thing Robert Kennedy did was call the CIA and say, ‘You have it did?’”
The film highlights CIA chief Allen Dulles – who was less visible in Stone’s 1991 film – as one of the key anti-Kennedy forces. “Kennedy was a young man who went through the war … he saw things in a new way,” says Stone. “That’s why he was chosen. People liked him. He was popular. And he really did a lot … He withdrew from Vietnam. He wanted to relax with Cuba [and]with Russia. That was a big deal. “
Despite his best efforts, does the director fear that the Kennedy case will sink into the fog of time? “I’m prepared for that. But it would be a shame, because since President Kennedy none of our presidents has managed to take over the national security establishment.
“Any president who’s tried to cut budgets, meddle in the military, is screwed. Even [Joe] Biden was opposed to this when he came from Afghanistan, and he is relatively conservative compared to Kennedy.
At least the current White House resident is someone Stone can live with. “I kind of like Biden, even if he’s too conservative for some. I don’t think he’s too old for the job. I think it’s ridiculous. “
Stone is impressed with Biden’s approach to foreign diplomacy. “I think he’s trying to boil down to take the boil off the stove. He’s trying to keep things calm. And that’s a great thing. We need rest in our district. “
While the director is currently working on a documentary about the energy crisis – he voted for Green candidate Jill Stein in the 2016 US election – one cannot imagine that he will not return to politics in his own nation anytime soon.
After dealing with Presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush in previous films, what about Donald Trump? Would he ever want to make a film about him? “No, no,” he says. “Much better to make a film about it [imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian]Assange. Much more important to the world. Trump is a distraction. “
Stone appears to be more angry with the US media than with Trump’s legacy. “For a long time the big media said Trump was like a Manchurian candidate [Vladimir] Putin in Russia, and that was hideous nonsense, to destroy the candidacy.
“I mean, I can’t defend Trump because he did a lot of bad things. But that was ridiculous. They’re talking about my paranoia. When they say Trump was a Russian agent … that’s crazy. “
Despite the Oscars and acclaim, it’s likely that Stone will always be marginalized at home – even if others are willing to join him. He’s just pleased JFK revisited goes out into the world, even if the American mainstream either ignores it or keeps ridiculing it.
“I’m very happy to have that in the game,” he said. “You can make fun of me. When I’m done they say, ‘Oh, the political conspiracy – blah, blah, blah.’ “He only has one thing to say. “Check out the damn documentation and be quiet!”