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JFK -- 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 12, 2013
JFK -- 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Oliver Stone's 1991 film "JFK" comes across like "The Untouchables" on a Red Bull / paranoia buzz, but for all the dubious hints and innuendoes the film makes, it retains the power to put some real doubt into your mind about the official story of Lee Harvey Oswald as rogue nutcase and lone shooter.

Like the 1987 Brian de Palms film, "JFK" casts Kevin Costner in the role of a crusader for justice whose chief protection is his unassailable integrity -- though in this case, the villain isn't Al Capone but the entire military / industrial complex, and, more specifically, a cabal of Pentagon hawks in collusion with military contractors. The former don't want Vietnam to go the way of China, falling to communism; the latter don't want to miss out on an opportunity to cash in on the profits to be made from a war of questionable ethics and even wobblier chances of success. Kennedy's plan to de-escalate America's involvement in Vietnam put him in the crosshairs of both groups, according to this film, with an extra dollop of animus emanating from reactionary Cubans living in exile after Fidel Castro's rise to power.

The film consists of endless recitations linking one shady character to the next; outrageously stereotyped gays, cold-blooded killers, black-ops types, corrupt officials, traitors, spies, patsies, drug runners, and Donald Sutherland as a sage, if reptilian, "Mr. X" all enter the mix, making for a thick and spicy conspiracy gumbo.

If the movie doesn't leave you with colliding feelings (it's both ridiculous and troubling), the extras will definitely pique your exasperation and ping your paranoia all at the same time. This boxed set is essentially a JFK shrine in a box, offering a raft... or rather, an aircraft carrier... of extras, from a JFK election poster to a book of Kennedy quotations to a package of family photos, reproduced postcards, and other documents, and a set of six character portraits (with information on the reverse). There is also a 50-page hardcover book, full of full-color photos, and a copy of JFK's Inaugural Address.

There are five discs in all: The feature film on Blu-ray, plus three DVDs containing documentaries (the Gregory Peck-narrated "John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums" propaganda piece and the new "JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later"), plus the 1963 feature film "PT 109" (based on Kennedy's wartime experiences). The fifth disc is a Blu-ray of "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States, Chapter 6: JFK: To the Brink."

The feature film, on Blu-ray, is the Director's Cut edition, which boasts an audio commentary track by Stone. Other extras include a handful of "multimedia essays" that expound on the film's theories and the flaws (or lies?) to be found in the Warren Commission report on Kennedy's death. One featurette, narrated by the editor of a newsletter called "Probe" ("The truth is in here!" is the publication's slogan) details the way in which newly released, non-redacted documents actually verify and support some of the claims made by conspiracy theorists.

All of this may be a little overwhelming to those who simply want to watch the movie, but the good news is that the film looks great on Blu-ray. Robert Richardson's naturalistic lighting scheme comes across as nuanced and atmospheric, rather than muddy; Stone's use of various film stocks and black and white for flashbacks (and flashbacks nested into flashbacks) makes more visual sense when you can see it clearly; and the jittery, almost delirious editing is all the more effective on such a clean transfer. Then there's the pure joy of seeing half of Hollywood (including Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, and lots of others) show up cheek-by-jowl with scores of historic figures (who feature in the stock footage spliced into the film).

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of confidence or skepticism about the official account as to who killed JFK and why, this film is sure to shake up, spook, enrage, and provoke audiences all over again.

Blu-ray (with some special features on DVD)
4 discs total
For more information

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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