Here is the section about Oliver Stone's JFK:
A cocktail of insomnia and an HBO Max subscription recently inspired me to rewatch Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK—a huge box office hit that was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two. It’s got an 84 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And more than three decades later, I can attest that dammit, the acclaim is earned.
It’s an outstanding piece of celluloid drama, fast-paced, intelligent, brilliantly staged. There are scenes that consist of nothing but eight lawyers in a room, sweating through their clothes in the New Orleans heat, shouting various threads of information to each other for more than 10 minutes. This should be absolute torture for a viewer, and yet, these are some of the most compelling scenes in the film!
A three-hour dramatization of a forgotten criminal investigation and trial (the only case ever brought against someone for the assassination of President Kennedy) led by District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner, fresh off of his Oscar-dominating Dances With Wolves and at the peak of his fame) should not work. But it does. It’s a fantastic success as a piece of entertainment.
It’s also batshit crazy, comically irresponsible with the facts, and lionizes a prosecutor who by many accounts was both unethical and deranged by a fixation with conspiracy theories—some of which plainly contradicted each other. But no matter, the D.A. and his team were “through the looking glass,” justice had to be done “though the heavens fall.”
At numerous times in the film, the Garrison character even says things like “I don’t have much of a case,” implying he would have one if only a vast conspiracy including the CIA, the mafia, right-wing Cubans, and a conclave of New Orleans gay men with fascist leanings hadn’t pulled the wool over America’s eyes.
Garrison’s case was weak, but he wasn’t shy about using homophobia—during a time when being gay was literally considered a national security threat—to make it stronger. Indeed, as James Kirchick (a past The Daily Beast contributor) wrote in 2022, Garrison described Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as “a switch-hitter who couldn’t satisfy his wife” and said Jack Ruby (the nightclub owner who murdered Oswald on live television) was a homosexual nicknamed, “Pinkie.”
Most people also don’t know that The New York Times referred to Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw as “one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of American jurisprudence.” They just know the legend, which is that an unwieldy conspiracy theory is the actual truth, and those who believe “the government” are just dead sheep walking.
Garrison’s obsessions found an audience through books, radio shows, and especially, through JFK. And to this day, the majority of the American public has been sufficiently convinced that Oswald didn’t act alone.
Good entertainment has that kind of power.
There’s an apocalyptic feel to JFK, as if the walls of reality are closing in just as “the truth” could come to light. It makes you want to believe, even if you know better (there wasn’t a viable internet for the layperson to do some basic fact-checking after watching JFK in the early ’90s.)
The Viewer's Guide has now been updated!
Over the past several months, I have shown in multiple blog posts how Oliver Stone's documentary series, JFK Revisited and JFK: Destiny Betrayed, misleads viewers. In fact, despite months of work, there are still many more misleading segments that need to be addressed. It's no wonder that the fact checkers of Netflix nixed the airing of the films.
There is a choice between four hours of tendentious nonsense (JFK: Destiny Betrayed) and two hours (JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass). As a handy guide for viewers, here are all those posts in order of their appearance in JFK: Destiny Betrayed and JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, preceded by some general critiques.
The Viewer's Guide has now been updated to include the sources from my new book, Oliver Stone's Film-Flam: The Demagogue of Dealey Plaza.