"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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25 of 31 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.
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.
9 of 12 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.
14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Aimed At Those Who Will Never Read A Book about JFK ASSASSINATIONJan. 25 2008
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To me the most irritating thing about the movie is what I call "genre creep" (It is a relative of the late 1970s tax term bracket creep)
It starts out saying that its purpose it not to takes sides in the debate between LN's and CTers: its supposedly noble purpose is to show the delibilitating effect on the American "left" (Note that the rightwing doesn't seem to NEED such paternalistic gatekeeping)
And the aim is to keep it that way. It does not surprise me that Stone aims his film at left liberals. That is where there has been a history of gatekeeping operations (witness Encounter magazine, before you scoff) And no this does not mean that Stone was a willing collaborator in a dinisinformation campaign. Who knows where along the chain of decision making that allowed this film to be seen by millions the disinformation came in. And no it cannot be said with certain that it was conscious disinformation. Yet the Encounter's focus on a similar left-liberal firewall strategyThe Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters to prevent further left curiosity about the CIA suggests it, as does the new book called The Mighty Wurlitzer about CIA domestic front groups.
Just how many American experience films to you see THAT ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES FURTHER PERSUIT OF A TOPIC? The timing is understandable, what with Harvard University Press about to publish David Kaiser's PRO-CONSPIRACY ANALYSIS and with Jeff Morley of the WaPost offering similar evidence in his new book Our Man in Mexico about the CIA Station Chief in Mexico City Win Scott, things are getting pretty desparate for the Lone Nutters. Their only solution is to dissuade the younger crowd by saying "conspiracy theory" and saying flying saucers as per the X-files formula that is finally wearing away.
Then it proceeds to give "both sides of the story" using outdated sources for the CT side.
Then, while clearly having won its own match-- umpired by itself it denies that any match occured at all and the intention was just to investigate a debilitating psychological state.
This is what is so gutless. It gives an biased point of "both sides of the story" and then denies it had any intention of passing judgement. This might well be what disingenuous means.
Ignores its own evidenceFeb. 8 2014
J W Clark
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This film about the Kennedy asssasination starts out well but fails to live up to its promise. The second half of the film seems to ignore the evidence discussed in the first half. For example, the Zapruder film and other evidence which is touched on in the first half is ignored in the second half. For example, it discusses the glaring contradiction of Dan Rather's incorrect original description of the head-snap of JFK after seeing the Zapruder film, which suggests at least two directions for the shooting, hence the involvement of at least two gunmen. Rather is gently interviewed and not asked whether he had rethought his earliest statement in light of subsequent evidence.
The hastily tacked on conclusion is largely narrated by CIA apologist Norman Mailer, who manages to ignore a lot of evidence. Not an investigation but more an attempt to reposition Oswald at the center of the JFK assassination. Too many other more in depth examinations have suggested otherwise, and this film, unsuccessfully for me, attempts to redress the balance.
I'm giving this film 2 stars because its enhanced Zapruder footage is especially clear compared to many previous films, and also some of its interviews are enlightening. But really a far better, 4.5 star exploration of the assassination is the History Channel's 2 DVD "Men Who Killed Kennedy," which is far more faithful to the evidence it presents.