MOVIE REVIEW:


OSWALD'S GHOST (2007)






MOVIE TRAILER:
video



PBS.ORG/OSWALD


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"ANYBODY WHO THINKS THAT HE WASN'T CAPABLE OF PLANNING SOMETHING AND CARRYING IT OFF ALONE
IS WRONG."


-- Priscilla Johnson McMillan

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Robert Stone's "Oswald's Ghost" is an "American Experience" PBS documentary film that I enjoyed very much.

It's filled with an abundance of archival film footage surrounding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with some of this footage belonging in the "very rare" and "never before seen" drawers (at least as far as my exposure to JFK assassination footage is concerned). Details about some of these rare clips are discussed later in this review.

The 82-minute "Ghost", which was released on DVD on January 15, 2008, by PBS Home Video, swiftly and efficiently takes the viewer through the "four dark days" in November of '63, when America lost its 46-year-old leader in Dallas, Texas, after two of the three gunshots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald found their mark and ended the short life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Director Stone (who also produced and wrote the film) tells the still-fascinating tale of those four days in Dallas through a combination of the previously-mentioned archival film and video clips and recent interviews with several authors, newsmen, historians, and assassination researchers (such as Dan Rather, Edward Epstein, Josiah Thompson, Mark Lane, Norman Mailer, Robert Dallek, Hugh Aynesworth, Gary Hart, Priscilla McMillan, and a few others).

There's a general anti-conspiracy and "Oswald Acted Alone" feeling that permeates the film, but "conspiracy" talk is woven into Mr. Stone's film many times, by way of some of the new interviews and older news footage.

We hear Mark Lane, Josiah Thompson, and Jim Garrison (among others) giving their opinions about how a grand plot took John Kennedy's life in Dealey Plaza.

So, although filmmaker Robert Stone is a believer in the "lone assassin" scenario (and admits as much point-blank during an interview that's included as a bonus on the DVD), "Oswald's Ghost" lets the conspiracists have their say (or at least a few of them anyway), which makes this a film, IMO, that shouldn't necessarily be deemed totally worthless by hardline conspiracy theorists, nor by most of the members of the "Anybody But Oswald" club.*

* = Although, having stated the above, author and long-time conspiracy advocate Robert J. Groden, after seeing a special preview of the movie in November 2007, was quoted as saying that the film is "a horrible, horrible piece of crap".

And Mr. Groden is even shown on camera a couple of times in the film, and not in an especially bad light either. He also gets some air time in one of the DVD's special features.

So Groden's vitriolic reaction to the film has me shrugging my shoulders in bewilderment a tad bit.

My favorite quote from "Oswald's Ghost" is this one by soft-spoken author Priscilla McMillan:

"He [Lee Oswald] had done very difficult things in his life, and he'd done them alone. Anybody who thinks that he wasn't capable of planning something and carrying it off alone....is wrong."

McMillan is unique to the "JFK" world in multiple ways. In addition to being Marina Oswald's biographer, she not only interviewed Lee Oswald personally in Russia in 1959, but she also knew and worked for a young Senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy in 1953.

McMillan, therefore, is almost certainly the only person in the world who had personal contact with both JFK and his assassin.

There's a very good short and to-the-point observation made by Edward Epstein in the film too -- "After forty years, none of the [conspiracy] theories pan out."

Perhaps films like "Oswald's Ghost" and Vincent Bugliosi's hefty but magnificent 2007 lone-assassin book, "Reclaiming History: The Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy", can reduce (by at least a few notches) the ridiculously-high percentage of people in America who still believe that a conspiracy existed to kill JFK in Dallas.

The percentage of conspiracy believers is 75%, as of the latest Gallup poll, taken in November of 2003.

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Here's a selected sampling of some of the rare video and film footage (plus some rarely-heard audio clips too) that is scattered throughout "Oswald's Ghost":

  • Some vivid color film clips of President Kennedy's flag-draped casket on its caisson during one of the weekend's solemn processions through Washington, D.C.
  • A brief color clip of President Lyndon Johnson placing flowers on JFK's grave, filmed sometime after Kennedy's funeral (probably in 1964).
  • There's a fantastic 1966 black-and-white BBC-TV excerpt of Mark Lane arguing with Warren Commission counsel member Arlen Specter about the controversial Single-Bullet Theory. David Belin of the Warren Commission can also be glimpsed briefly in this clip.
  • 1991 behind-the-scenes footage, in color, on the set of Oliver Stone's blockbuster movie, "JFK". A portion of an interview with Director Oliver Stone is included here too.
  • Rare 11/22/63 audio excerpts from the Dallas Police Department radio tapes (recorded just after JFK was shot).
  • Audio recording of a drugged Perry Russo ("star" witness for Jim Garrison at the Clay Shaw trial in 1969). (This is a howl too.)
  • A segment from CBS-TV's 1964 news special, "November 22nd And The Warren Report", which aired the very day the Warren Commission's 888-page final report was made available to the public (September 27, 1964). B&W.
  • Marguerite Oswald, LHO's mother, is featured in a black-and-white news clip that's not seen too often. It includes the hilarious statement made by Marguerite at the cemetery as she was visiting the grave of her murdered son. Yes, Marguerite was distraught over her son's death, but this comment she made at the cemetery is just simply hysterical (there's no other way to define it):

    "Lee Harvey Oswald, my son, even after his death, has done more for his
    country than any other living human being."


    Hugh Aynesworth gets in a good jab at Marguerite's expense during this film too, when he said: "Oswald's mother, Marguerite, was one of the weirdest people I've ever run into."
  • There's also a B&W film snippet from a news conference with lawyer Mark Lane sitting next to his new client, Marguerite Oswald.
  • Jack Ruby, Lee Oswald's killer, can be heard in an audio recording made in 1966.
  • Two LBJ audio clips -- one of them has President Johnson talking on the phone with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on November 29, 1963 (the very day that Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate JFK's murder).

    The other clip, from September 18, 1964, features part of a telephone conversation between LBJ and Commission member Richard Russell, as they discuss the assassination and the soon-to-be-released Warren Report.

    Both of those telephone calls with Lyndon Johnson (plus one other LBJ phone call) can be heard in their entirety HERE.
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The number of old video/film clips that can be found in "Oswald's Ghost" (and the rarely-seen nature of some of these) puts me in mind of another good documentary centering on the same subject, "The Murder Of JFK: A Revisionist History", an award-winning film that was made in 1999 and released on DVD in February 2006.

"Revisionist", like "Oswald's Ghost", is a worthy film for avid collectors of JFK-related programs too, mainly for the large amount of historic 1960s-era video and filmed material that it contains.

And a third Kennedy documentary film, "Four Days In November", is yet another movie that earns high marks in the "vintage film footage" category.

In fact, in my own personal opinion, the Academy Award-nominated "Four Days In November" (which was released in theaters in late 1964, less than a year after the assassination) is the cream of the crop when it comes to films or TV programs associated with the JFK assassination. I haven't seen it topped by any other movie or television documentary yet.

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DVD BONUS FEATURES:

Three items are on the "Special Features" menu of the "Oswald's Ghost" DVD. Here's a quick look:

1.) "A Visit To Dealey Plaza" --- Now here's something that ought to appeal to conspiracy-thirsty people. This bonus, filmed in Dallas' Dealey Plaza (probably in 2007), consists of 9-and-a-half minutes of non-stop, mile-a-minute JFK conspiracy talk.

For the first seven minutes of this torture, we're treated to some nut who is perched up on the Grassy Knoll in the Plaza, armed with a thick notebook full of assorted conspiracy-flavored tripe.

This guy has got his conspiracy spiel down cold, I've got to give him credit for that, as he rattles off one unprovable theory after another, including everything from soup to nuts it would seem (much like Oliver Stone's "let's throw in the kitchen sink too" approach to the case).

Yes, it's torture to sit through to a degree....and yet this man (a Mr. Russell) is strangely compelling and easy to listen to at the same time, despite the ridiculous position he is taking regarding how the assassination of the President occurred.

And, yes, sure enough, Mr. Russell even believes that "Umbrella Man" was part of the covert plot to kill Kennedy....and he also believes that the "three tramps" were a major part of the murder plot too, including the fable about one of the tramps being E. Howard Hunt.

The tramps, of course, have since been fully identified as just that--tramps--and not conspirators, but tell that to Mr. Russell, who you can no doubt find on the Knoll this very minute, peddling his pro-conspiracy wares.

The final two-plus minutes of this bonus feature focus attention on famous researcher and conspiracist Robert Groden, as he gives one of his many talks to the visitors of Dealey Plaza.

Groden has set himself up a stand for selling his assassination books and goods in a nicely-shaded area on the steps that lead up the Grassy Knoll on the west side of the Plaza.

Bob doesn't talk quite as fast as our other conspiracy theorist featured in this bonus supplement, but his theories are just as preposterous and unsupportable by the evidence (of course).

Mr. Groden, for the trivia-minded out there who might not know this, was born on November 22. He turned 18 on the day of JFK's death.

So, coincidences CAN, indeed, occur. And do.

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2.) "The Zapruder Film And Beyond" --- This 22-minute DVD add-on supplement is a "talking heads" piece, with various participants from the main feature (plus Louis Stokes, the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations) providing a dialogue about Abraham Zapruder's infamous 26-second home movie, which shows JFK being shot and killed in full color.

There's some other general "conspiracy vs. no conspiracy" discussion included here as well. This is pretty basic stuff. My favorite part of this bonus is when Mark Lane talks about how he took a copy of the Zapruder Film off the desk of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and then arranged for 100 copies of the film to be made and distributed "everyplace". ~chuckle~

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3.) "Interview With Robert Stone" --- This interview lasts almost 16 minutes. Among other things, Stone talks about how he was able to unearth some never-before-seen film footage connected to the events of 11/22/63.

I think the best comment in the interview is when Mr. Stone says: "The mantra in making the film was always, This is not a 'whodunnit'...this is a 'what the whodunnit has done to us'. That's what it's about."

All three DVD bonus programs are presented in Anamorphic Widescreen format (1.85:1), with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio.

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DVD STATS & SPECS (FOR MAIN FEATURE):


Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1).

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.

Subtitles: None. (But Closed-Captioning is provided.)

Chaptering: The movie is divided into 13 DVD chapters. The chapters (or scenes) are titled as follows:

1. Introduction
2. The Prime Suspect
3. Oswald In Custody
4. Oswald's Assassin
5. The Commission Investigates
6. The Warren Report
7. Re-examining The Evidence
8. Jim Garrison's Allegations
9. Murders Of MLK & RFK
10. The Church Committee & The CIA
11. Conspiracy Theories
12. Oswald's Ghost
13. Credits

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FINAL "GHOST" ANALYSIS:

There's nothing really super-extraordinary or shocking or ultra-spectacular about "Oswald's Ghost". It's just a good, solid, well-constructed documentary film on the death of America's 35th President.

I suppose some people who viewed this movie wanted some kind of "new evidence" or heretofore-undiscovered revelation to be unveiled by Robert Stone within this film. Alas, that's not to be. And that, in my opinion, is mainly due to the following fact: There is nothing "new" to be unveiled concerning the way John F. Kennedy died on November 22, 1963.

JFK was shot by a lone loser named Lee Harvey Oswald. And that lone loser who hated America and its "representatives" just happened to own a cheap mail-order rifle and he also just happened to work in a building that overlooked the very last portion of President Kennedy's motorcade route through Dallas.

The combination of things I just mentioned above was a lethal combination. And it's also, whether you want to believe it or not, a combination of circumstances brought about by nothing except pure garden-variety coincidence and happenstance.

Lee Oswald's very own brother, Robert, said pretty much the same thing during an interview a few years ago:

"It is my belief--my conviction--no one but Lee was involved--period. .... He had problems at home. He had problems on his job. He was completely frustrated about what was going on around him. This is not EXCUSING what he did. This is UNDERSTANDING what he did. He wanted to be somebody. And this opportunity came about coincidental. Nothing planned. Nothin' organized. It HAPPENED that way. It's one of those happenstances of history."
-- Robert Oswald; 2003

So, if you want to watch a well-made, non-sensationalistic documentary about President John F. Kennedy's murder and the events associated with it, you'll certainly want to pick up this DVD.

If you want sensationalism and lots of complicated and impossible-to-pull-off conspiracy plots, then I'd suggest opting for the 1991 movie "JFK" (helmed by that other director named "Stone").

David Von Pein
January 2008





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