"Oswald's Ghost" is about the conspiracy theories that arose around the Kennedy assassination, but it doesn't really go into any of those theories in great depth. It's more about the zeitgeist that first led Americans to go along unquestioningly with the Warren Commission's report on the assassination saying Oswald acted alone, and then, as the country grew ever more cynical about the government, and realized they were lying about and covering up what was going on in Vietnam and elsewhere the dial swung the other way and suddenly everybody had a theory about who had really killed Kennedy and why.
That's a pretty interesting premise, but the tendency to lump in the loony-tunes theories with those that raised some pretty striking questions about the hard evidence in the case gets frustrating.
Some of the most compelling material is the amount of footage of Oswald after his arrest, doing a pretty good job of looking bewildered and confused by the whole thing, and repeatedly asking for legal representation for questioning (I wish the program would have stated if he was provided any before his death).
The film is never boring, but, in the end, I wasn't quite clear on what it was saying about the assassination and the theories around it, other than its meta-theory about the country's more general state of mind pushing people to look at Kennedy's death in different ways. But for me, dismissing those who question the Commission's conclusions – even those who found some really troubling holes -- as artifacts of a moment in history, seems as unrealistic and simplistic as blindly assuming the Warren Commission knowingly covered up facts as part of a giant evil conspiracy of it's own. It feels like the film is clearly on the side of the 'Oswald was alone' camp, but doesn't quite have the conviction to say it.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
NO NEW INSIGHTS BUT SOME STRIKING IMAGESJan. 15 2008
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Not an investigation and no new insights here, but true to the title, this is a look at the lingering presence of the mystery of Oswald and the assassination that will forever link him with JFK.
The implied conclusion (big surprise) of this PBS broadcast film is that Oswald acted alone but that we are not psychologically able to grasp that fact since recent polls suggest 70% of Americans think otherwise.
None of the big lingering mysteries of that day are explained or explored. Are there high tech forensics that can be used today to look at the event? Not touched on.
Only the varying opinions of those involved as newscasters or lawyer and authors. Some glaring contradictions are not followed up like Dan Rather's incorrect original description of the head-snap of JFK after seeing the Zapruder film. Rather is interviewed for the film but not asked that question even though it is pointed out in a vintage clip.
And has anyone done stress analysis audio tests on Oswald's recorded vocal denial of any involvement in the assassination?
Some of the vintage footage is especially sharp.
Engaging but not revealing.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Not Whodunit, but What Whodunit Has Done to UsJan. 19 2008
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The above title is a paraphrase of film maker Robert Stone's own explanation about what compelled him to make this seductive and oddly unnerving documentary. He says it at the end of his 16 minute interview which is part of the bonus material on the newly released DVD of 'Oswald's Ghost' The film itself is not so much about who did or did not kill JFK, although Stone comes out, on the wings of some beautifully cadenced articulation from Norman Mailer, with a plausibly reasoned narrative that shows Oswald was far more intelligent, educated, motivated and therefore capable of soley killing one of the most popular presidents of the century than most of us would ever care or dare to suspect. But whether or not this may sway your JFK conspiratorial or anti conspiratorial belief system, his real aim is to look at the nature and actual necessity of the conspiracy theory itself, something which all the anti-establishment and pro establishment theorists never seem to have done
JFK's assasination was a national trauma rivaled only by 911, but what made it most appaling was millions of people like myself, then in high school, had to witness the subsequent assasination of prime suspect Lee Harvey Oswald by some Dallas saloon operator on national live tv. The impact of those four days is immeasurable, but Stone should be applauded for exploring what this meant to a decade, a generation and ultimately an entire society to the present day.
His film is not able, nor motivated, to cover all the narratives, let alone all the angles of the most common narratives that spun out of those days on our collective political subconscious, but his sharp film making and archive footage research skills project us into a realm where we get an uneasy sense of the anger, anxiety and paranoia that the assasination and its twisted aftermath took us through - virtually to the edge of a kind of national psychosis.
I first saw the film in a theatre and whether you have seen it there or on The American Experience, there is still something to be gained from watching the DVD with its bonus material. One segment, titled "A Visit to Dealey Plaza" has a feeling that we are watching a 19th century side (I am tempted to say freak) show, where a fast talkin' barker spins a whole cloth conspiracy rant that lassoes Nixon, LBJ, J Edgar Hoover, Howard Hunt, Lamar Hunt and Woody Harrelson's dad altogether in a book of pictures and headlines that we can neither see nor read. He wraps it up as few can do outside of Texas with " As they say at Hallmark: We Care Enough to Send the Very Best, and We Sure Didn't Hire any Amateurs to Kill our President". Hysterical stuff, except that many people, myself included, have tended to believe all or most of it at some point or another, and can still be easily swayed, even after watching Oswald's Ghost several times.
The fingering of LBJ as conspirator (who sealed off the investigation being done on him soon as he was sworn in) is interesting because in Stone's film, former White HOuse reporter Robert Dallek describes LBJ as one establishment official who didn't swallow the Warren Commission's finding, and became sufficiently paranoid enough of theories involving Castro and the Soviets that he became delusionally obsessed with showing his prowess in Vietnam. There's one not so oft cited glimpse at how the events and our need to make sense out of things that don't add up effect not only our thinking, but our history. Stone makes an even stronger observation at the end of his interivew when he talks about how the belief by 70% of our population that Oswald did not act alone has impacted how we think even of today's historic presidential election. So many people younger people that he has talked with in the lasst year or two who are not old enough to remember 1963 believe all the parties are the same, that they are all corrupt, that no one tells the truth, and therefore why participate, why vote? This sort of 21st century malaise is not something that Robert Stone was able to explore deeply in Oswald's Ghost, but perhaps more than anything, it justifies a title whose legacy only seems to grow more unsettling through time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Visually Striking Look At The Specter Of The Kennedy AssassinationFeb. 20 2008
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Oswald's Ghost is not, on the surface, just another documentary on the assassination of John F. Kennedy seeking to prove one theory or another. Yet while the film ostensibly is not on the whodunit but that question ahs done to us, Oswald's Ghost has a definite bias in it. But even if on disagrees with this interpretation of the facts, there is still something to be watched here.
Director Robert Stone seems to have done his homework. His interviews cover many proponents of both sides of the argument. He also goes a step further to present unseen or rarely seen / heard materials including news clips and the actual Dallas police recordings. Stone also chooses to employ some interesting visual techniques in the film as well. For example there is the whirlpool of Oswald and Warren Commission images at the start of the film, the (apparent) black hole of conspiracy books, and the positive / negative effect on stock footage during the playing of the recording of Perry Russo's sodium pentothal questioning. These make the film visually interesting and watch-able, even if one doesn't agree with the facts as presented.
Thus the film's fault lies in its bias. While Stone does offer the conspiracy theorists plenty of screen time to defend their views and for the most part I'll admit the film is pretty even handed. Yet in the last few minutes of the film, Stone seems convinced that the mystery is solved and has been for nearly forty-five years. The film then proceeds to essentially say that independent researchers (that is to say conspiracy theorists) have led the public on a wild goose chase of truly epic proportions. Stone takes the viewer from a fair-minded look at the how the specter of the Kennedy assassination looms over America to a biased attempt to prove Oswald acted alone in the assassination.
Would the film have been better without this bias? That's hard to say, really. I suspect that one's own opinion on the topic determines how one interprets the film. While one can argue over the factuality of the film, it is visually striking in its presentation as if to shock and awe. At times fair and at times biased, Oswald's Ghost is not for all tastes. But for anyone interested in the assassination, the film should be seen.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting but spoilt by appalling production techniquesMarch 21 2008
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I am surprised that this program stirred up so much bitterness in some reviewers. I could see very little that was controversial in it - in fact little that was new information. Some of the commentaries were a little confused but the majority of the information has been known by most of the world for forty years now. It is still a mystery so no-one has the real answer. The final idea in what was a relatively balanced program is that Oswald had the ability to kill Kennedy, and acted alone. Personally, I do not believe that. However, in this program evidence from both sides was given, but, in my opinion, ignored at its conclusion. However, most programs with a point to make tend to do that. This one is just a counter to those who believe that there was a conspiracy (that is, more that one person was involved in the assassination). I tend to 'believe' more than one person was involved (in fact, I am convinced) but there is as much evidence one way or the other. It is interesting how this topic stirs up antagonistic reactions. Oliver Stone is in this program for less that 5 minutes and seems to have caused a reaction far exceeding his influence here. However, the program could have been more interesting and enlightening to watch if it was not drowned in noise. The background `music' obliterated most of the dialogue and totally distracted the viewer from actually listening to the arguments posed - I had to strain to listen to the dialogue most of the time. At one stage, a scene which represented someone on a truth drug seemed to imply the producers were on it as well - such was its strangeness. This program could have been edifying but was totally spoilt by the production and background sound effects which were appalling. Why producers seemed to think they are needed I have no idea. Perhaps American viewers have become immune to jarring and screaming noises whilst trying to concentrate. This is a pity - because, although much of the material has been known for years, a watchable revamped program on the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination would have been really beneficial. So if you can watch this more than once without wanting to shut the sound off, I congratulate you. Why do they spoil programs like this? It is the dialogue I want to hear not the special sound effects which are totally inappropriate anyway.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I think some reviewers here missed the pointSept. 16 2009
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This is not supposed to be another film about WHO killed President Kennedy. It is, as the description above states, a film about how America has searched for answers as to what exactly happened on November 22, 1963.
"Oswald's Ghost" is a polished, glossy history of how the conspiracy theories started and why. The film doesn't provide any new answers. Instead, it seeks to understand why controversy still swirls around the Kennedy assassination 45 years after it was allegedly solved.
That search for answers has been an important chapter in American History, and thus "Oswald's Ghost" is a welcome addition to the American Experience series. I think it's a refreshing departure from the flimsy, conspiracy-theory-laden pap like "The Men Who Killed Kennedy" and the like that seem to pop up every five years on the major anniversaries of Kennedy's death.