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