JFK

Director: Oliver Stone

1991

I’ve been known to be a little bit of a conspiracy theory believer – sometimes just to wind up my mum who still staunchly believes that man landed on the moon – but there are a couple that I really believe and fascinate me (Kurt Cobain never committed suicide but don’t get me started on that!) and one of those is the assassination of the 35th President of America, John F. Kennedy. I’ve also been on a bit of a JFK fix at the moment, reading the Stephen King book 11.22.63, in preparation for watching the recent television programme of the same name. “Never a stranger to controversy, Oliver Stone followed up his powerful post-Vietnam movie, Born on the Fourth of July (1989) with a film that angered and amazed people in equal measure – his questioning, overwhelming, urgent conspiracy movie JFK.” (791, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

jfk-1991-picture-mov_202d5c37_b“Although many people have debated whether more than one person pulled the trigger that day, Stone went one further and committed some of the many theories to celluloid, and in doing so delivers a fascinating film that raises more questions than it answers.” (791) To say JFK had an impact on the american public is a bit on an understatement. The film and the questions it raised partly resulted in the creation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Those papers should be due for release next year – but whether they will be is anyone’s guess. JFK is a mammoth film with a 3 hour run time – and a run time that actually feels as long as it is – but every single moment is compelling. And it asks some very uncomfortable questions. There’s something about the Kennedy assassination that has never sat well with me – it just does not seem plausible that one man could have caused as much damage as he did, and I guess the subsequent assassination of Bobby Kennedy only added weight to the conspiracy theory in my opinion – I mean really why did both Kennedy’s need to be removed? What was it about them that was so threatening?

“Using documentary footage – including the infamous home movie shot by Abraham Zapruder – as well as flashbacks, reconstructions, quick editing, and a skillful use of words and music, Stone weaves many ideas and theories together using the huge mountain of evidence and witness testimony without ever confusing or hoodwinking his audience. We don’t get a result by the time the end credits roll three breathtaking hours later, but we do know – as if there was any doubt in our minds previously – that it was impossible for Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone.” (791) I went into JFK already questioning the official version of the truth. And the film that Stone pulled together just reinforced all of the questions I had about that supposed truth. He pulls together an extremely compelling and convincing film that while never providing a conclusive answer gives you more than enough evidence to begin forming your own opinions of that historic event. The more I watched the more it reinforced the absurdity of the theory of a single shooter.

“He would not succeed in getting us to care so completely about this search for the truth without a strong central performance from Costner, who holds your attention throughout the film despite the numerous heavyweight actors who stroll in and out playing small roles – from Tommy Lee Jones as suspect Clay Shaw to Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman (as Oswald), Donald Sutherland, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, and Sissy Spacek, all of whom are superb.” (791) The cast is immense – it’s a veritable who’s who of Hollywood and as Joanna Berry says the majority of them appear in small supporting roles. Costner is magnetic as Jim Garrison, a man who has become somewhat lost to history. Sure everyone knows Kennedy was assassinated but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that there was someone who looked into the official report of the version of events and publically questioned it, at great personal cost to himself. Now I’m not naive – I studied film and television studies – so I know that every director controls exactly what story they want the viewer to see through their choices in editing and therefore every single thing you watch has its own agenda behind it. Even if you think that the single bullet theory is the truth, JFK is a compelling watch and who knows you may even come out of it with a different view on such an iconic event that shocked the world to its core. I cannot recommend JFK strongly enough.

Carrie

Director: Brian De Palma

1976

“[…] Carrie marked his breakthrough. It is an operatic horror melodrama blending the family gothic, supernaturalism, and teen movie. It remains the cinema’s best adaptation of a Stephen King novel.” (605, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

CarrieThe thing I found most disturbing about Carrie was not the telekinesis, murder and mayhem but actually the blind religious fever of Carrie’s mother. She is by far the scariest character with her one track mind. Her overbearing nature is way more destructive than the other factors that contribute to the film’s now iconic climax. Carrie is routinely subjected to abuse, often confined to a cupboard and forced to pray for forgiveness for the perceived sins she has committed in her mother’s eyes. And for the most part these ‘sins’ are beyond her control like getting her period for the first time. The Jesus in Carrie’s penance cupboard has to be the creepiest depiction of the deity I have ever seen!

Carrie remains one of the best examples of how very cruel teenagers can be and the devastating effects of such cruelty. During those key transitional years from childhood to adulthood are some of the toughest and everyone can relate to them. “We watch with ambivalence as Carrie’s revenge fantasies cross the line into uncontrolled mass murder in the climatic prom scene (a De Palma tour de force.)” (605) The one bright spot, of sorts, is Sue who has the courage to detach herself from the herd to help Carrie have a normal high school experience like going to senior prom. Yes she takes her time in doing so but the important thing is that she separates herself from the destructive hive mind that was the popular crowd. Sue is not only the lone survivor of the carnage Carrie unleashes at the prom but the only person who tries to warn about the impending humiliation. I have a lot of sympathy and respect for Sue.

“Sissy Spacek is astonishing in the title role.” (605) For a “plain Jane” you cannot take your eyes off her. Her innocence and naivety made me want to protect her from the brutality her classmates subjected her to – as well as her crazy religion obsessed nut job of a mother. I had absolutely no sympathy for anyone trapped in the school hall – they got their comeuppance.

I’d quite like to see the most recent remake of Carrie (2013, Kimberly Peirce) because I know that remakes of this particular film have had little success and are really rather poor imitations. Carrie is still an excellent horror film and one that is infinitely easier to relate to than many of the other films in the horror genre.