When it was released in 1991, it was simply seen as another Oliver Stone screed set to the horrific events of history. Riddled with ridiculous conspiracy theorizing and undeniable artistic merit, it would soon become a talking point for those on either side of the Warren Commission controversy. Those who wanted to be believe in a second gunman, the grassy knoll, and a high ranking government cover-up got all that… and much, much more. Those satisfied with the single bullet theory and the lone assassin explanation viewed it as yet another way for Stone to sell his homegrown paranoia while dressing up fantasy in the falsehood of “facts”. Still, some 22 years later, JFK remains a masterpiece, a motion picture manipulation of one of the United States most tragic times argued by some as an affront in that it convolutes truth in order to tell an alternative version of what possibly happened 50 years ago in Dallas.
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Over the last few weeks, my fellow films critics and I have been having an interesting debate. No, it’s not who will win Best Picture or why certain studios fail to screen specific titles for us. Instead, we’ve been arguing over the documentary Room 237 - you know the one, Rodney Ascher’s film about the various secret interpretations and intentions within Stanley Kubrick’s “horror masterpiece” The Shining. In said movie, the filmmaker follows a group of individuals and pseudo scholars as they argue that one of the greatest cinematic auteurs in the history of the artform turned Stephen King’s novel about a haunted hotel into an apology for the Native American genocide, an explanation of the Holocaust, a mea culpa for Kubrick faking the moon landing, and at least two other equally obtuse deconstructions. For some in my brother (and sister)-hood, the project is akin to mental masturbation. It’s geek obsessives fetishizing a film that, for the most part, seems pretty straight forward.
Dear Comedy Genius:
No, I am not being facetious. Yes, I understand that you get said compliment, on occasion, in a backhanded way, all the time. It’s become a running joke, a repugnant bit of ridicule that’s patently offensive to any film fan with half a brain. You are a genius. Sure, not every movie you made was a masterpiece. Yes, you played to the baser instincts of the genre. True, your ‘trained ape’ persona onscreen can be grating and a bit overbearing. But anyone who looks over your creative canon these last six decades, anyone who witnesses your growth as both a filmmaker and an artist understands that you are much more than a French cinephile’s talking point. You’re a brilliant director, a consummate performer, and a flailing egotist who has a right to believe in their own excellence.
You’ve seen them and if you haven’t you’re damned lucky. If, in fact, you really have never experienced it, head on over to YouTube and type in the name of your favorite band. Then add the word “live” to the search bar and see what comes up. There they are, dozens upon dozens of clips featuring your beloved pop/rock/country combo, image jittering and jumpy while the distorted noise pouring from your speakers reminds you that, even with the convenience factor and ease of use, a cellphone still has a long way to go to be a really reliable portable video camera. It is, however, the new go-to accessory for anyone who believes in the democratization of art, who doesn’t know the word “bootleg” or the decades of artistic angst over the illegal capturing of a concert or song.
In response to a recent New York Times article asking that film fans stop blaming Jaws for what is now seen as the annual unveiling of increasingly superficial popcorn season fare, we present a reasoned response. It’s not Steven Spielberg’s fault. Tom Laughlin and his Billy Jack character are gleeful guilty parties. Don’t think so? Read on…