Kevin McAleer on his obsession with JFK’s murder 52 years ago today

22 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

DIGGING FOR ANSWERS: Kennedy assassination has been Duluth woman’s five-year passion.

I didn’t realise I had a thing about JFK until about 10 years ago. Abraham Zapruder’s amateur footage of the JFK assassination not only documented a tragic historic event, but broke cinematic taboos and anticipated the rise of citizen journalists.

Heartfelt memories of JFK still linger in the minds of millions of Americans as over 50 testimonials were featured, former presidents and staff members, journalists, civic activists and entertainers, two years ago in a special two-hour NBC documentary as well as comments edited into the book, Where Were You? (2013). I started to notice that he had wormed his way uninvited into every comedy show I’d ever written, and I got curious to find out what he was up to, hanging around my subconscious all those years. If you trust the 846 cinema experts polled by film magazine Sight & Sound magazine, you might pick Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo—which won the periodical’s most recent vote for the best movie of all time.

The JFK legacy is an enigma to many historians since JFK did nothing to distinguish himself in significant ways to merit the high standing many Americans continue to attribute to him. Old school purists might still choose Citizen Kane, runner-up in that poll, for its cinematic virtuosity and denunciation of overreaching American ambition. Betty Chruscielski teaches a community education class about her five-year mission of digging into aspects of the assassination of President John Kennedy, an event that occurred 52 years ago today in Dallas.

I was seven when Kennedy was killed in Dallas; I don’t remember any emotional reaction from my parents, big or small, but there are a few hints that it was a big deal. Other obvious candidates include The Godfather, which held the top spot in a recent list compiled by the staff of The Hollywood Reporter, or The Wizard of Oz, which leads the ranking of influential aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. She’s read testimony from the Warren Commission Report, a federal effort to divine what happened that day in Dallas and later near Washington, where the autopsy took place. We had a small farm in Tyrone, no electricity, no car, but we all six of us piled onto the grey tractor (don’t ask) to go and see the funeral on TV in Peter Tammy’s house.

Across the street is the former Texas Book Depository, which houses the excellent Sixth Floor Museum, dedicated to the life and death of John Kennedy. If you are uncomfortable with Hollywood’s dominance of this list, you can always champion Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin or Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Those are all fine movies, but my pick for the most influential film is a different one—and has nothing in common with any of these cinema classics. His father, a Dallas policeman, was assigned that day to the Trade Mart where the president was due to speak. “It’s always the 22nd of November in Dealey Plaza,” says our guide, with resignation. Kennedy did not have the best relationship with his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, or with the Congress, nor was he particularly successful with his own legislative agenda.

In short, why is nearly everything surrounding the assassination still not settled as fact more than five decades later. “I realized I didn’t know,” she said. This spur-of-the-moment decision allowed Zapruder to capture the only footage of President Kennedy’s assassination that offers a clear view of the event. Of course his sudden and untimely death yielded sympathy from all domestic and international quarters, but we have had other presidents who have died in office. I like Noam Chomsky’s take on it; when asked “who killed Kennedy?” he answered briefly “who knows? who cares?” For the sake of simplicity and convenience, I’m with the Lone Nutters faction (LN) who say that Lee Harvey Oswald did it all by himself, one man and his rifle.

In a human sense, Kennedy, a youthful 43 years old when elected, meant the new president was bringing his pregnant wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, into the White House to have a baby! On November 22, 1963 it was showing a double bill: a Korean war drama called War is Hell, narrated by Audie Murphy, and Cry of Battle, set in the Philippines in World War II. If you ask any good Democrat and Pueblo senior citizens about President Kennedy’s visit on Aug. 17, 1962, they will positively quote chapter and verse of the successful event.

On November 19th there was a world premiere of the documentary Oswald’s Ghost in the Texas Theatre, the same spot where Oswald was arrested in ’63, having felt a sudden urge to catch the matinee double bill Cry of Battle/War is Hell on his lunch break from the Texas School Book Depository. Bugliosi’s book was published in 2007 and became the basis for Parkland, one of the better movies about the assassination, released in Australia last year. Nowadays bystanders around the world follow in Zapruder’s footsteps by capturing breaking news stories with a handheld device even before the professional journalists show up. I’m not sure who got Oswald’s seat but there was an edgy sense of history as we waited in the dark, a big mugshot of the ghost himself staring vacantly at us from the screen.

It simply follows what happened at Parkland Hospital from just before the assassination, through the doctors’ futile attempts to save Kennedy, and on to Oswald’s pathetic funeral, a few days later. He espoused an idealism that encouraged ordinary people to rise above their personal circumstances and he offered a form of moral leadership whereby he expected Americans to do their best to attain their personal goals while supporting the broader public good. She dizzyingly rattles off names of the key people who played a part in the assassination aftermath, each one with testimony that keeps her wondering where the truth lies. The documentary was fairly balanced until towards the end, when it lurched heavily in favour of us Lone Nutters, helped in no small part by a cameo appearance by Norman Mailer. If you look at old Hollywood gangster films, you will find the camera focusing on bullets hitting walls, furniture, windshields and other objects, but rarely do you see their impact on soft tissue.

JFK had a sense of how things were done by past presidents, a keen vision of what needed to be done, and a sense of timing to inspire people to get things done. Certainly the kind of stomach-churning moment of violence captured by Zapruder could never have been shown in movie theaters at the time of the Kennedy assassination. There were his courage to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis, his ultimate positions on social and civil rights matters, his interest in advancing the performing arts and his vision to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. Almost as horrifying as the damage inflicted by the bullet is the sight of the First Lady crawling on to the back of the limousine convertible immediately after the shot, perhaps in an attempt to escape, or help a Secret Service agent climb into the car, or—most disturbing hypothesis of all—to grab for part of her husband’s head before it falls away into the street. I did notice, though, that they keep the street lamps on 24 hours a day– it’s a place that still needs all the illumination it can get, even in broad daylight.

Brother Bobby Kennedy was very instrumental in influencing President Kennedy eventually to do the right thing to ensure that African Americans in the southern states were starting a course of reversing centuries of discrimination and prejudice continuing through outdated practices and unenforced constitutional laws. Back home among the grassy knolls of Tyrone I decided to write a novel to make sense of it all, but just to make it a bit harder for myself it would be narrated by the Mannlicher Carcano bullet that killed Kennedy, and the action would take place over a duration of 0.12 seconds, the time taken to travel the 90 yards from rifle to target. This surreal plan had the desired effect of making the novel impossible to write, and it remains gloriously unfinished, in the fine old Irish tradition of non-fiction.

On Nov. 22, 1963, while participating in military field exercises near Fort Bragg, N.C., we learned that President Kennedy was shot and all units were ordered to immediately return to post. And that’s where the matter would happily have rested, if the bullet itself had not got in touch with me out of the blue a few months ago from Washington, and ordered me at gunpoint to write the following poem.

Alvin Rivera of Pueblo is a Vietnam era veteran (as a paramedic in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 1961-1964) and later served in the administrations of Presidents’ Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. With numerous photos of the 35th president taken in his last moments alive, including the infamous “Zapruder film” showing Kennedy in the moments before, during and after he was struck, Americans have long speculated not only about why the shooting occurred, but also how it happened. Arthur Penn’s film Bonnie and Clyde (1967)—by coincidence, filmed in and around Dallas, not far from where Zapruder made his movie—changed the rules on what you could show in a cinematic shot-out. The following year, Hollywood scrapped the Production Code that had set rules for onscreen violence since the ’30s, and replaced it with a rating system.

Thus far, public documents not originally released in or part of the Warren Commission’s report from 1964 have not demonstrated that there was any kind of conspiracy, yet clearly most Americans disagree with the official findings. Speculating about who was really responsible for Kennedy’s death will likely remain a topic of fascination for the American public for many years to come. Perhaps the most eerie is the case of “Texas Tower” sniper Charles Whitman, who killed 14 people and wounded 32 others at the University of Texas at Austin in August 1966.

In a prank organised by mischievous BBC chat show host Graham Norton, Adele – full name Adele Laurie Blue Adkins – donned facial prosthetics to sing alongside Adele impersonators undetected. Wearing long black gloves to cover her distinctive tattoos, a fake chin and nose, makeup to make her eyes look bigger and lips look smaller, and a strategic ladder in her stockings, the Rolling In The Deep and Hello singer crafted a new personality: Jenny the nanny. I note that no high-profile political assassination had taken place in the U.S. during the two decades before the JFK shooting, but in the following two decades they were frequent news events—with Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Gerald Ford (twice), George Wallace, and Ronald Reagan finding themselves as targets for unhinged shooters. She even got into character, speaking slowly to disguise her distinct accent and inventing a reason why: “Nannies speak very slow and very calm to try to make the world make sense.” And even today, when events such as the Paris terrorist shootings take place, we are living a world in which almost anyone of us might be called upon to be an Abraham Zapruder, documenting and sharing world-shaking news and blurring the line between journalist and participant.

Twitter-news
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site