[1932/1933 & 2019] Little Women II

Here’s Part I.

Sam Sklar  

Besides the fact that diversity is Good, everyone deserves a shot regardless of race or skin color or gender or orientation. Whoever you are, you deserve more attention for making really good art. What I think is even better is that a lot of the stories that we haven’t heard yet are probably going to be coming from women and people of color and people of different sexual orientations and preferences. And these are the stories that are going to define this generation of audiences and I think that producers and people that fund these projects and that greenlight scripts should do a better job and lead the way, rather than just following the dollars. It’s going to be slow rolling anyway.

Zach Schonfeld  

Yeah. Throughout the past century almost all of the film adaptations of Little Women have been huge box office successes, and proved that movies that center around women’s stories can perform really well at the box office, and that both men and women will go see these movies. And you can go all the way back to the very first adaptation of Little Women, that 1918 version, which I haven’t seen because it’s lost, and see that this is true.

When I was researching the Vulture piece, I was going through this old Paramount pressbook from 1918, which has all these promotional materials for movies that Paramount was releasing at the time, and there’s all this material urging theater owners to show this Little Women adaptation at their movie theater. And it says: “

It is safe to state that nine out of every ten women and girls in your town have read this idyllic story of home life during the period of the Civil War … Every woman who has read this notable book in her girlhood will see the picture again at your theatre. Every mother will want her daughter to see it.” 

So it’s a shame that Hollywood has been so resistant, or the Academy has been so resistant, to movies that center around women’s stories when it’s clear that these movies resonate with a lot of people.

Sam Sklar  

I’m going to venture a guess here: the Hays Code may have slowed this down.

I think a lot slowed down the acceptance and adaptation of female stories and stories about people who aren’t just straight white people. I think that the folks who were in charge of censorship for 25 or 30 years were not just we’re not just editing for explicit material or whatever their moral code was. I think they were probably editing out stories… a person who color or a gay person or someone experiencing sexual trauma was not allowed to be told. And before filmmakers could even decide whether a story was worth telling, they were hamstrung by the code and they found they were going to eventually get censored by it. It halted a lot of progress.

So I would bet that the Hays Code definitely played a big part jamming natural progress and I think also film executives are probably very skittish. And the folks who have a lot of money and prestige and power tend to trust their own instincts, even if they’re rooted in a very narrow set of experiences. 

And when it’s all white men whose instincts are “I am white man, I understand white men, so we’ll pay white men to make movies about white men until it makes me comfortable.” It’s an a-virtuous cycle.

A lot of these big studios are reeling (ha) from the legacy of the Hays Code, and a lot of the staff, children of filmmakers, maybe children of people who saw these films still linger. We’re going to need another generation or two: this upcoming generation will be the “change” generation and the next generation of filmmakers. The next one will show that the film industry won’t even be recognizable in 40 years.

Zach Schonfeld  

So I’ve already explained why I was skeptical of Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women, and why I didn’t love it as much as most critics did. But I do want to say what I did like about it. There was a lot that I did like about that movie. 

First of all: Saoirse Ronan, I think, is absolutely fantastic. She gave a deeply felt, lived-in performance as Jo. She’s a fantastic actress. And I think you can absolutely draw a parallel between Saoirse Ronan in the 2010s and Winona Ryder in the early ‘90s. Both actresses in their early 20s who are so good at playing coming-of-age roles, playing troubled, intelligent, tormented, teenage girls in various settings. I thought Saoirse Ronan was also brilliant in Lady Bird and in Brooklyn as well, which are both kind of period pieces in their own way. 

Another thing I liked about the 2019 Little Women was the cinematography, and the level of visual detail in every scene. It’s stunning, and I particularly loved the scenes where the whole family’s together, when the girls are younger, and the whole family is together in the living room, and there’s such a family feeling to those scenes. Greta Gerwig directed it in such a way where they’re all talking over each other. The sound design is very chaotic in a very realistic, familial way. All the girls are talking over each other and there’s so much affection and love and bickering and it just feels like a real family. I thought that it was just extremely well directed. I really like the scenes where they’re all together.

Sam Sklar  

Yeah, Saoirse Ronan’s performance was my number one thing that I liked the best about this movie as well. I’d also like the scene where Bob Odenkirk showed up halfway through for a little unintentional comic relief. He’s so recognizable from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul! that seeing him in this context was a little…goofy. He was good though!

Zach Schonfeld  

We haven’t talked about Timothée Chalamet, I think he’s a good Laurie. I thought he got too much screen time in the film, perhaps. I thought he got too much screen time relative to Professor Bhaer, who was relatively underemphasized in this version. But it makes sense: Timothée Chalamet is the hot young thing right now. It makes sense that he would get a lot of screen time given his current rising profile.

Sam Sklar  

This was going to be one of my main points. I thought Timothée Chalamet was wildly miscast in this role. I understand the twee nature of Greta Gerwig’s work and the fact that Timothée Chalamet is the it boy in Hollywood right now—he’s the hot young thing. Every movie he’s in gets a bump.

My view of who Laurie is, is Christian Bale’s performance. Obviously this is Greta Gerwig’s telling of the story so she had a different interpretation of what “big strong man” means to her in 2019 whereas the 1994 version and even the 1933 version had much different takes on it. 

To me, the Laurie character is meant to be this very stereotypical six-foot-three, two-ten, and handsome, but a little bit oafish; all over the place, but well-meaning; a duality of traditional masculinity and what a “man” actually is—a flawed human. And I thought Christian Bale did a great job—he is my standard bearer for that type of role anyway. And I just think that it weakens the relationship when you have two skittish, waifish people going at it. 

There’s a power dynamic, which I think Greta Gerwig was trying to flatten a little bit, which I think needs to exist in order for the story to make sense as it was written, but again, this is Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of it. And so for me and my expectations for the film, I think he was miscast. For Greta Gerwig’s interpretation, I think he was the perfect cast. It’s hard to only comment on what movie we got and what movie we want, though.

Zach Schonfeld  

I thought he was good, but he got too much screen time relative to the character, Professor Bhaer, who I think is an important character who was not very well developed in this particular adaptation of the film.

Sam Sklar  

In this theory of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, (if I’m going to interpret this, and I’m likely to be way off, and I don’t want to put words or ideas in her head) the whole flattening of the power dynamic, is that she didn’t want Jo to succumb to the eventual “needing a man to be fulfilled” trope.  And so by giving Professor Bhaer less screen time and making him an increasingly secondary, throwaway plot point. Greta Gerwig doesn’t seek to remove the power that Jo had over her own life, in a way that the ‘94 version did, which was a little more faithful to the book, and maybe faithful to Alcott’s experiences.

I just think it was a conscious choice to make this man a secondary part of Jo’s life rather than her eventual understanding that you can do both: you can have a career and a life and also find love, and it’s likely to come out of nowhere. That’s what that’s what that character represents to me. Dumping this part of the plot into “Oh, I guess you’ll get married now, but whatever, he’s just a man,” was a weak choice. And I think played out the opposite way of what Greta Gerwig was expecting. Instead of empowering Jo to make her own decisions it infantilized her.

Continue reading

[1932/1933 & 2019] Little Women I

I sat down with Zach Schonfeld, who’s been a longtime contributor and friend to this blog to talk about Little Women, both George Cuckor’s 1933 version and Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version, along with a smattering of version in between. It’s been made more than a handful of times, for better or for worse.

Sam Sklar  

So, let’s talk about Little Women. We’re going to talk about the one that came out last year as the main focus, but it’s been remade many times. I think this was the fourth time it was made as a movie.

Zach Schonfeld  

Actually no. I wrote a piece about the original silent film adaptations which have been lost. So there are two silent film adaptations in 1918, and 1919, then the 1933 version, which I recently watched, and which was nominated for Best Picture, as you know, then 1949. So that’s 1-2-3-4. And then there were a few television series adaptations, which I don’t think you’re counting. So forget those. Then ‘94 that’s five. So ‘94 is the fifth and then in 2018, there was some Christian film production company, which made a “modern” retelling of Little Women, where it’s actually set in the 2000s. And, instead of going off to fight in the Civil War, the Dad’s going off to fight in the Iraq War. So that was the sixth, and the Greta Gerwig version was the seventh version of Little Women for film. 

So there there are seven film adaptations. But only five of them are available. Two of them are lost films.

Sam Sklar  

Plus a TV series.

Zach Schonfeld  

Plus a whole bunch of television adaptations, including an ABC adaptation from the 70s, which is ranked as the worst Little Women adaptation of all time. Apparently, William Shatner is in it. I’m curious about that. But I haven’t watched that yet. I’ve seen the ‘33, the ‘49, the ‘94 and the 2019 film adaptations. I’ve seen all the major film adaptations.

Sam Sklar  

So you chose not to watch the Christian remake?

Zach Schonfeld  

Actually, I want to see it. I just haven’t gotten around to it. That one everyone acknowledges is bad, pretty much. The others, people debate. You know which of them are the best? Yeah.

Sam Sklar  

Let’s focus on the 1933 and the 2019 ones.

Zach Schonfeld  

Because those were both Nominated Best Picture. 

So the ‘33 version—my understanding is that for many years, that was the gold standard of Little Women adaptations; that was the movie that for many decades that everyone knew. Katharine Hepburn was the classic Jo March. She defined how Jo March would be depicted on screen. She’s sassy and funny, but also super angsty at the same time. 

(When I was talking to my grandma about going to see the new Little Women. She was like, “Oh, I love the one with Katharine Hepburn.” That’s the version that old people grew up with—the ‘33 version.)

I think it is a classic. I don’t think the other sisters are as memorable as Katharine Hepburn. None of the other performances really stood out to me. And then just recently, I watched the 1949 version, which came only 16 years after the ‘33 version. And it’s very similar—the screenplay is the same in parts; they used some of the same lines; they used the same music. The main differences: one. June Allison played Jo in the 1949 one and she tried to imitate the Katharine Hepburn performance in a lot of ways, but she’s just not as good. She just doesn’t pull it off—she’s not as charismatic. She’s petulant and annoying as Jo. That is a real fault of the ‘49 version. 

And two: the ‘33 version is obviously black and white, while the 1949 version is in Technicolor. And the filmmakers really took advantage of full color. You can tell that they’re soundstages. You can tell how fake all the scenery is, like it looks like a ‘40s Hollywood soundstage; it’s very artificial looking. 

The very last shot of the movie, when Jo accepts a marriage proposal from Professor Bhear, and then goes back to her house, the camera shows her house and then it pans up and there’s a shot of a full rainbow in full color. It is corny as hell. But you can tell at the time people were excited about movies being in color because it was a relatively new invention. But personally, I thought the 1949 version was inferior to the 1933 version in numerous ways. It was like the same movie, but slightly worse.

Sam Sklar  

Hollywood did that in the ‘30s and ‘40s. They took a lot of the same intellectual property and recycled it, right? There was really no shortage of works to draw on. But technical limitations forced many hands—there was very little science fiction and things requiring a lot of technical work were very challenging and very expensive. These pastoral stories kept getting remade with a lot of ensemble casts. They were cheaper and a tried practice.

Zach Schonfeld  

And part of that is because Hollywood was changing so quickly. There are all these silent films from the ‘20s and they would remake them in the ‘30s as talkies because all of a sudden they had sound. And then they would remake them again in the ‘40s or ‘50s in color, because all of a sudden you had color. Movies were changing at such a quick rate that they kept remaking movies that had already been popular not that long before.

Sam Sklar  

I mean, it makes sense from any perspective you look at it really, especially as time marches (ha) on. Sixteen years between these adaptations, you have a whole different audience of young people coming up, and the older people are looking for some nostalgia and to compare and contrast the different ones. It would be interesting to talk to someone—I’m not sure this person is alive anymore—that saw the ‘33 version in theaters and the ‘49 version in theaters, and then the ‘94 version in theaters, I’m pretty sure that person would have to be 120 years old.

I’m always interested in talking to people who have experienced a similar thing over time, and asking how their perspective changes—following these two paths of their own life experiences and the story, which stays the same, but with each director who puts their own “take” on it. And so there was a big 45 year gap between adaptations (minus a TV adaptation, these productions must have been extremely bloated if they’re going to be put on for TV. The movie really works well at just over two hours and I can’t imagine them stretching it out for longer than that.) 

It works really well as a movie, but I’m not sure it would do so well as a TV show, and yet, they did it anyway. And they’re going to keep doing it.

Zach Schonfeld  

Like many younger people, my introduction to the story was the ‘94 version. That was the first version of the movie I saw and my familiarity with the plot was all from the 1994 version. So going back to the ‘33 and the 1949 version recently, which I hadn’t seen before, I was surprised by certain things that were left out of those film adaptations.

For instance, when Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. That scene is such an important, pivotal moment in the 1994 film as well as in Greta Gerwig’s film, so I’m very surprised that that scene just is not in the 1933 version at all. In my head that was such a formative moment in the sisters’ relationships. So I was surprised that it wasn’t in the ‘33 version. When they were writing the screenplay for the 1994 version, whoever wrote that screenplay [Robin Swicord] must have noticed that scene in the book and was like, “Wow, this should be in the movie. This is an important moment.” It’s also, not coincidentally, left out of the ‘49 version.

Sam Sklar  

I’m trying to think if there was anything culturally different about American life in the 1860s, when the book was written, and in the 1930s, when movies started to come out about why the director and the producer and screenwriter would choose to leave such a pivotal scene out.

I guess the relationship between women and the breaking of bonds between women was less important? Were all the movies before this last one, directed by Greta Gerwig, directed by men?

Zach Schonfeld  

The 1994 film was directed by a woman, Gillian Armstrong. She is a Australian film director. 

Sam Sklar  

That might give us a little insight into how a woman’s intuition about what kind of events in women’s lives might be more significant or very different than what a man would think. The small little interaction was seen as the throw away in the earlier versions and maybe in the later versions. The female directors may have found a little bit more value in displaying these day-to-day interactions to build a relationship, rather than the big sweeping moments, like Amy falling into the ice skating rink, which is a pivotal moment, but it’s an action moment. 

So men are drawn to it, I guess? Or maybe the “man” of the ‘30s was drawn to the action and the producers wanted to market it to that type of audience, which was interested in a little disturbing scenery rather than a book burning. Hard to say. 

This is also a theory that is backed up by absolutely nothing! We can’t really ask George Cuckor his opinions on this. 

The book was really long when it came out, over 700 pages. The book is two thirds of Lord of the Rings length and that got three movies. That’s where maybe they were coming from with trying to adapt it into a longer series. There is a lot of material there. But I think a lot of that material is better on the page. 

Continue reading

[1965] The Sound of Music II

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Manhattan.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about 1965’s Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music, starting in Part I, here. This time around we dive into musical theatre and Christopher Plummer’s disdain for his role.


Sam Sklar: Musicals live on in cartoon a lot – in the ’80s and ’90s – it shifted away from being for families to being for children. The genres broke apart and they became a little more post-modern. A lot more dialogue around what is for kids for adults and not for families. Everyone’s time is a little more compartmentalized, ideas need to be put into compartments instead of just having an experience. It is interesting to look back and see this. This shift away from musicals and then back into musicals with this new skin on it.

I’m not drawn to musical theatre either. When I was a kid I would think: ‘Why are they singing?’ until I realized, you know, “that’s the genre,” and that’s what it is. I didn’t understand. I get opera because they’re singing all of the time, and I get drama because they’re singing none of the time.

Zach Schonfeld: So, why are they singing some of the time?

S: Ha, right! Why are they randomly breaking into song? And then I got older and understood that’s the point, the form of entertainment.

Z: Yeah.

S: I’m just not drawn to it naturally. I appreciate it though. I think it takes a lot of talent to sing and dance and act. It’s just adding more to the entertainment value.

Speaking of which: Christopher Plummer did not do his own singing in this.

Z: No, he did not. Someone else did.

S: You don’t — didn’t — really notice that. So the question is: why was he cast in this role?

Z: I don’t know. I feel like there’s probably a story but i don’t know what it is.

S: might be worth looking into when I write this up and put a little aside in there.

[Aside: In 2012, Plummer sat for an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, where he discussed how the film’s producers overdubbed his part with singing from maestro Bill Lee. The team of Lee & Plummer, in effect, tag-teamed the role, with Lee sounding astoundingly like Plummer as Captain von Trapp.]

Z: It’s interesting because this role made him a real star and was the most famous role of his career. And he’s made it clear that he resents how much this role has followed him around. He doesn’t really want to be known as Captain von Trapp. When I interviewed him [for Newsweek in June 2018] he said something like, “Oh as soon as I played that role, all the roles that were offered to me were uptight sons-of-bitches like Captain von Trapp. I didn’t want to be a leading man; I couldn’t wait to be a character actor.”

He thought it was a dull character. He wanted to play more interesting characters and he complained a lot on set that the film was “too sentimental, too gooey,” and he’s credited himself as pushing Director Robert Wise to make it less sentimental, to cut down on the sentimentality, which I think is a noble pursuit and made the film better.

But i think over the years he’s referred to it as The Sound of “Mucus” and has expressed a lot of irritation as being known for that movie out of all his roles.

Continue reading

[1965] The Sound of Music I

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Manhattan.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about 1965’s Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music.


Sam Sklar: Let’s first start with overall impressions and thoughts about the movie.

Zach Schonfeld: Well, I’d seen the play before but I’d never actually seen the film before. And it was very whimsical I thought; it was very family friendly. It is interesting that movies like that were pretty frequently nominated for Oscars in the ’60s. And now musicals don’t win best picture anymore.

S: The last one was Chicago [in 2002]

Z: I mean, La La Land, came close…but today, movies that are so whimsical are seen as being un-serious by critics, but that wasn’t the case back then, which I find interesting. There’s an historic element to the film, too. It captures a specific era of history, which would be the Nazi era. But it translates it for family-friendly audiences.

S: It sanitizes it a little bit, where the Nazis were just your typical adversarial element rather than a world-changing evil, in a way.

Z: Yea, it didn’t really contend with the reality of Nazis, but you can’t really expect it to do that. The music – not my thing, as I don’t really listen to show tunes, but it’s obviously endured incredibly. It’s hard to think of another musical from that era that has endured.

S: The only on I can think of “My Fair Lady”.

Z: Yea, I mean. Even that hasn’t been quite as ubiquitous. Maybe West Side Story?

S: So what do you think it is about these songs, because you can remember, “Doe, a Deer…” and obviously you’ve got “My Favorite Things” (wait is that that song, yes that’s that song). Then there’s, “How do you deal with a problem like Maria” songs that are very nostalgic.

For me, I first saw this as a kid with my dad [probably around 1996], and I liked it because it was basically made for kids. I enjoyed more now [in 2018] as a piece of nostalgic media rather than a “great movie,” but the story’s pretty solid. I don’t know what classifies it as a “timeless, great film.” Continue reading

[1991] JFK III

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. Here’s Part III and the conclusion. Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here.

ZS: He pulls it off!

SS: I totally believe that. He’s one of these legendary actors.

So, that’s a really good transition, actually, into how I want to wrap this up. I try to finish my reviews with a discussion of the other films that were nominated for Best Picture. I know we may not have seen all of them – so I do a lot of guesswork at this point in the blog, a “what I’ve heard about the movie,” before having actually seen it or I’ll look up a small summary. 1991 is another(!) compelling year in Academy Award history being that it’s the last time a film took home all five major categories – Best Picture, Best Director —

ZS: Was this Dances With Wolves? 

SS: Actually, this was Silence Of The Lambs. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and then also Best Adapted Screenplay.

ZS: WOAH! Silence Of The Lambs won all of those?

SS: It won a lot of Academy Awards – those five. And all five were the “major” ones, kind of dwarfing the other films that were nominated that year – including JFK, which received eight or so nominations (and I don’t know if it won any, maybe two or three) but they were smaller categories, upon which most people wouldn’t necessarily recommend a film, “Oh did you see JFK? It won Best Art Direction,” which is nice for people involved, though not terrible compelling. [I don’t know if that’s actually true because sometimes a movie can be visually stunning and worth a look – ed.] The other movies nominated that year: Prince Of Tides, starring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte [Woah, 1991 – ed.], that’s one of those psychological, personal narratives that I’m not necessarily drawn to, but I’m sure the acting was good. Beauty And The Beast was nominated for Best Picture [And should have won, in my humble opinion….or maybe not -ed.], which is funny. That may have been the first time an animated film had been nominated for Best Picture and I guess that shows the strength of Disney, back then. We can also talk about Bugsy.

ZS: What’s that?

SS: Bugsy, Bugsy Siegel, the famous gangster. Just the fifth of five movies nominated that year. Warren Beatty, Annette Benning – you know that classic pairing. I don’t want to say it was a weak year, but there have definitely been stronger years for Best Picture. You’ve seen Silence Of The Lambs I’m assuming. Continue reading

[1991] JFK II

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. Here’s Part II. Part I can be found here.

SS: Right, right. So the acting in this movie is superb. The cast of characters…if you recommend this movie to someone or you speak to anybody about JFK, you could read down a list of actors who have either won awards or have been lauded as landmarks within film. Let’s take a look: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, who play a very off-kilter…

ZS: Yeah, and I didn’t even realize that was Gary Oldman…

SS: He’s a total chameleon.

ZS: Right, but you never actually hear him speak; he’s just black-and-white footage and pops up.

SS: I mean, Kevin Costner had just come off a huge performance in Dances With Wolves a year before [1990’s Best Picture winner], so it gave the audience a name recognition and a draw to see the movie. It won 7 Oscars and now he’s in a movie crafted by Oliver Stone, who we [the audience] knows as a very overtly dramatic and very specific and very dynamic director. And you look down the card and you see other names, I mean Kevin Bacon has a very small role, but it’s a pivotal role. We as an audience, now 25 years later, have a connection to these actors who were just gaining fame at the time or maybe some were in the middle of their careers and now the movie has held up a. because the subject matter is compelling and b. because the acting is stunning. I thought it was a very compelling three hours…

ZS: Oh yeah, that’s another thing that Roger Ebert writes about, that it’s just an insanely fast-moving and entertaining movie because the longer it goes on, the more entranced you are by this web of characters and evidence and it does a very strong job or channeling his [Garrison’s …or Stone’s?] obsession and makes you feel it, too. Any good mystery film is like that.

SS: It’s a tough thing to pull off – the theatrical cut is three hours and eight minutes and Director’s Cut, on top of that (and at this point, if you’re going to commit 188 minutes, you may as well commit the extra half an hour), is around 208 minutes.

ZS: I think the Director’s Cut was the version I watched, but it did not seem that long. It did not feel like it was three hours.

SS: What do you think about the shift in tone as the first part of the movie where we go through and we meet this character, we meet Jim Garrison and it goes through his investigation and these theories that keep popping up and then we actually see the courtroom drama. It turns into a courtroom drama, which is a completely different style of film. It doesn’t seem out-of-place and yes, we want to see this. What did you think about including this? It could have faded out 45 minutes earlier and ended with a parting shot that Clay Shaw trial was this and this and this and read the, “where are they now,” bit. And it does this…after the fact.  Continue reading

[1991] JFK I

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. 

Sam Sklar: What’s going on man!

Zach Schonfeld: Not much…

SS: I’m glad we’re finally able to do this…this is a cool thing…thanks for taking the time.

ZS: Yeah, of course.

SS: So I guess the first thing I wanted to start with was the article you sent me about The Thin Blue Line and its relation to I guess the cinema verité and what constitutes true documentary. It had an interesting take on Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK, which is pseudo-fictional. The movie itself is obviously based on JFK, the person…

ZS: Um, yeah. Well Oliver Stone described it as a counter-myth to the myth of the Warren Report, which I find really interesting because he’s sort of acknowledging that his film doesn’t tell any sort of objective truth because there can be no objective truth because probably the only people who know what happened to JFK are dead. So in that sense he is constructing Jim Garrison’s version of the truth – which in many ways i diametrically opposed to what the Warren Report came out with. And so, the film has been attacked because it validates some of the most extreme and radical conspiracy theories associated with the Kennedy assassination but I think that was Oliver Stone’s goal, really.

SS: I think so, too. I think that he would have…there would have been no success in his eyes had he tried to construct a straight biography from that point on November 22nd, 1963 to the months and years that followed. There is no biography there to tell that hasn’t already been told. His goal in making this movie was to draw attention, maybe turn some heads and kind of get his message across, which may or may not be truthful, so I think that — what was the author’s name of that piece?

ZS: Linda Williams

SS: Linda Williams…there was a little, well the writing was a little dense.

ZS: Oh yeah, it was very dense.

SS: She attempted a lot of six-syllable words when she could have used simpler ones, but I understood her point and it’s a theme that has kept coming up in all the reading and all the movies that I’ve watched and the critiques that I’ve read, this concept of, “Is there a bigger picture?” and within the bigger picture, how can the details be interpreted. So within this world that Stone created, at what point are we to believe, “what is true? Is there such a thing as objective truth and did Stone even attempt to search for it or was his goal, like you said, the counter-myth…was that the point. Does it matter, then the criticism he’s received?

ZS: I don’t really think that truth is obtainable and I don’t know if he [Stone] viewed it as, “Oh, I’m going get at the total truth of the assassination. I think his goal was to show things from the point of view of Jim Garrison and Roger Ebert also wrote some interesting things about the movie. Roger Ebert liked it a lot and he wrote that Oliver Stone does not subscribe to all of Jim Garrison’s crack-pot theories but, he writes, he [Stone] uses Garrison as a symbolic center of the film because Garrison, in all the United States, in the years since 1963, is the only man who has attempted to bring anyone into court in connection with the fishiest political murder of our time. I think that’s something that’s easy to forget; the main character of the movie is not JFK, it’s Jim Garrison. That’s something that’s very, very clear as you’re watching it. We never actually see JFK speak, really, we never view him as a living, breathing character. Jim Garrison is our anchor into the entire plot. He is the only person ever to have prosecuted someone in connection with JFK’s murder. And for that reason, he’s the most important character in the movie.

SS: So, I guess the question is, I would want to sum up from all this is, “why are people deriding this movie?” Is it because they were expecting a biography of JFK and will do anything to keep that truth in their mind or are they diametrically opposed to his methodology or blinding dislike it regardless of the message he [Stone] was trying to send. Where is this derision coming from? Continue reading