Oliver Stone and the persistence of false memories, part 5.

18 Oct

5. Bad history + bad directing = bad movie.

JFK is the turn. With this enormous, epic, absurd movie, Stone enters his decadent phase. The visuals are all over the place, flipping between dozens of different cameras, ADD filmmaking, a narrative clusterfuck with miserable performances. It’s entertaining in a train wreck sort of way, but shaggy as hell and obfuscating. Stone throws dozens of conspiracies at the screen but keeps to the edges of things. (Don DeLillo, in Libra, offers up a legitimate counter-narrative that sort of makes sense. Bill James, in  his book Popular Crime, basically solves the big question concerning the phantom bullets. And James Ellroy, in American Tabloid, offers a very strange, but also strangely compelling, alternative to the official history. My point: other artists have gone through this same material and come up with a variety of answers.)

I challenge anyone to leave that movie with a solid sense of who Stone believes actually killed the president. It’s the Cubans, mobsters, the military and some weirdo New Orleans folk thrown in for good measure.

It’s conspiracy by splatter.

His storytelling skills diminished as his technique ballooned. The camera whips around, it jolts, it bumps, the colors explode, fade into black and white, the whole thing is such a profound visual mess it’s hard to watch. He toggles real footage with fake, and I think this is why he settled on such a jumpy filmmaking style. The movie is mystifying, combustible, enigmatic, and frustrating as hell. It has its converts and acolytes, it’s compulsively watchable in a pulpy, titillating sort of way, but it doesn’t work. It’s a swirling chimera of a film, marbling in fiction with history, and the result is a phantasm that hides more than it reveals.

It has a wild cast. Jack Lemmon, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Ed Asner, Michael Rooker, Joe Pesci, Walter Matthau, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, and Donald Sutherland. And amidst this pantheon of big stars, who does Stone choose to play the lead?

The magic bullet theory, as explicated by Kevin Costner.

Kevin Costner.

I haven’t seen it in years. Once again, my memory plays tricks on me with this movie. Does John Candy really play a Cajun pimp with a propensity for biting nipples? Did Stone insert himself into the movie, or is that in his next film?


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