JFK is among the most important and historically accurate American feature films ever produced. Basing the screenplay on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s book, On the Trail of the Assassins: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Murder of President Kennedy, and author Jim Marrs’ Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, Oliver Stone’s masterpiece illustrates how deep state power mobilized to subvert Garrison’s investigation of Louisiana-based figures associated with the CIA and November 22, 1963 tragedy. This was a daring and heretofore unsurpassed effort in commercial filmmaking drawing broader historical and political attention to an event that remains obscure and misunderstood.
Yet in the lead up to the film’s release, criticism of Stone from the press and the director’s own Hollywood’s jet set intensified. Fearing continued attacks and potential excommunication from industry peers Stone eventually succumbed. He did so by claiming that JFK was not entirely factual but rather subjective and interpretive in nature–his personal “myth.”
Therewith Stone undermined the film’s immediate and potential long term impact for future generations. In all likelihood this is exactly what the motion picture’s adversaries wanted–the powerful admission to film-goers from the director himself that their country’s own history could not be accurately explained–that the true account of Kennedy’s death can be thoroughly accounted for in the government’s “lone gunman” conspiracy theory.
Oliver Stone on the set of ‘JFK.’ Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Everett Collection
“Prior to the film’s release, indeed prior to even the final editing of the film, Stone was subjected to an unprecedented barrage of criticism in the media,” writes Kennedy assassination researcher, psychiatrist and author E. Martin Schotz. “He was called crazy and a drunk. The pressure was intense and Stone turned for advice to Frank Mankiewicz, an old Kennedy ally.” Schotz continues,
The advice apparently was that Stone should not insist that his film was the truth (which he knew it was), but that he should simply present it as his interpretation. Thus, with the release of the film Stone began referring to the film as his “myth.” The instant he did that, the criticism was muted. He was invited to address Congress and call for the release of more information. Once again he became acceptable.
Stone knows this movie is not myth. It is a brilliant synthesis of twenty-five years of critical work by Garrison and independent citizens. It is completely factual except for the obviously created and condensed scenes. Beyond that, to call on the government to provide further information is to logically contradict the film’s central thesis that the government was behind it. So Stone wound up being turned against his own film.
Joe Pesci plays CIA operative David Ferrie days before Ferrie’s “suicide.”
There is a very important lesson in this. There is no mystery to the JFK assassination today. And to pretend otherwise is to join the cover-up, something Stone has done in calling for the release of more information and referring to his film as “myth.”
Stone was threatened with being completely blackballed by the media and left with no one to talk to. So he compromised. He traded his knowledge of the truth for belief and access.
What we have here is the way “the black star” organizes and perpetuates its tyranny of confusion, by threatening people with isolation and being labeled insane if they aren’t willing to compromise.
E. Martin Schotz, “The Battle of Belief Against Knowledge in the Struggle Over Oliver Stone’s Film JFK,” (Letter to Vincent Salandria, May 14, 1992), in History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy, Brookline MA: Kurtz, Ulmer and DeLucia Book Publishers, 1996, 286-287.