Oliver Stone’s documentary “How John F. Kennedy Was Killed” has been released in Russia. He did not become a sensation, did not “shoot” and will not “shoot” even in the long run, despite the fact that he is dedicated to a problem as immortal in its relevance as the question of whether there is life on Mars. Explains Mikhail Trofimenkov.
In part, of course, this is because Stone, a comrade of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin, despite all his Oscars – not to mention uneven but nervous talent – is considered a sick dissident in his homeland. “How John F. Kennedy was Killed” is a British production: a living classic in the United States has not found business partners. He has a reputation as a “conspiracy theorist”, which is certainly unfair. The conspiracy theorist is looking for conspiracies in an empty place. And the assassination of President Kennedy was an unconditional conspiracy. Almost certainly, as Stone insists, a conspiracy of the far right from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon. Or, as those far-rightists suggest, the Soviet-Cuban conspiracy. But by conspiracy – in any case.
Another reason the film didn’t “shoot” is that while Stone refers to intelligence documents declassified over the past quarter-century, he adds nothing new to the long-known, confusing and obscure oddities of the century’s murder investigation.
But it’s also Stone’s feature film John F. Kennedy. The Shots in Dallas (1991) did not add anything new to the known facts. However, at one time he did not just cause a storm in US public opinion. Stone was invited to speak in Congress, his speech, in turn, initiated the creation of the third state commission to investigate the Dallas murder and declassification of the very protocols on which the director built his new opus.
Clearly, in the feature film, the historical intrigue was set out fiercely, passionately, with fights and puddles of blood. Not that it’s a boring documentary with testimonies of witnesses who boringly refute what they said sixty years ago: and why should we believe them? But still it is not about the emotionality of the discourse. The fact is that Stone is demonstratively archaic – in other words, honest – in his relationship with reality. A film like “How John F. Kennedy Was Killed” would not just hit the court, but would become a sensation in the 1970s, the golden years of political cinema. But over the last quarter of a century, credibility in the genre of investigative film as such has most likely been undermined hopelessly.
This genre was invented by the Italian genius Francesco Rosi. His highlight was the 1972 film The Matthew Case, about the death of Enrico Mattei, president of the state-owned oil and gas company Eni, on October 27, 1962. It is now well established that Matthew’s plane, which was playing too much against the Seven Sisters, an Anglo-American energy concern focused on the Third World and the USSR, was blown up. Rosie could only guess. But his guesses were confirmed in a very cruel way. During the preparation of the film in Sicily, journalist Mauro De Mauro disappeared without a trace, informing Rosie about the conspiracy between the mafia and the CIA.
Matthew’s Case, which is fundamentally important, was not a documentary. Rosie put the real investigation into playful form: Matthew played the great Jan Maria Volonte. Nevertheless, the film was perceived by the world establishment as scandalous “seriously”.
Another classic example of an investigative film that blew up public opinion is Howard Elk’s The 1969 Murder of Fred Hampton. Elk made a film about the revolutionary everyday life of 21-year-old Hampton. The leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, a revolutionary Negro party, worked wonders. He persuaded street gangs of all colors to conclude a non-aggression pact and change racial ideology to class. He opened free hospitals and children’s canteens. He forced the police to “behave well”, that is, not to cover the trunks unnecessarily.
No good deed goes unpunished. At first, the FBI broke the truce: the street massacre in Chicago is still raging. Then it was Fred’s turn. On the night of December 4, 1969, his FBI-recruited bodyguard poured a lethal dose of sleeping pills on the Panther. And in the middle of the night, Hoover’s Sonderkommando slammed the door at Hampton’s headquarters and snatched him asleep. The killers arranged the crime scene so that it was supposed to be a shootout, not a massacre. But Elk managed to take it off as it was. The film became a judicial evidence against the killers – ultimately redeemed from the victims, which does not matter – and a lifeline for the “panthers” accused of terrorism.
How glorious, however, were these very recent times, when film testimony was perceived in court as evidence. And now what?
Recently, the MIFF screened the ernic film of the Dane Mads Brugger – a kind of “Borat” from the documentary – “The Hopeless Case of Hammarskjöld” (2019). Brugger seemed to be investigating a tragedy that almost surpassed Kennedy’s death: the plane crash that killed UN Secretary-General Doug Hammarskjöld on September 18, 1961, in an attempt to resolve the bloody Congolese conflict that he himself had ignited. Brugger accumulated and absurd all the clichés of the investigative genre. I’m chasing a “lone ranger”, a mercenary pilot who shot down a plane of the Secretary General: as a result of a tedious investigation, it turned out that the ranger was never a pilot. Vanity with some leaky piece of rusty iron, allegedly part of the fuselage of the Secretary General’s plane, sewn with bullets. Experts determined that the piece was not from the plane and the holes were not from bullets.
Brugger’s film infuriated those who – including me – initially took it for granted, but simply stated the reality. Nowadays, photo and film frogs, when the chronicles of Donbass pretend to be the chronicles of Kharkov or some other unfortunate city, when unattributed shooting on the phone can be the reason for the bombing of Libya or Syria, when any face on the screen can be pretended to be an expert, faith no more on-screen investigations. It is a pity, of course, that the victims of this unbelief are, of course, honest people like Stone. Well, in war as in war: “let’s go to war.”