Directed by Robert Stone
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 83 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 English
Release Date: January 15, 2008
Review Date: January 7, 2008
The continuing conundrum of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is explored anew in Robert Stone’s Oswald’s Ghost. Rather than looking for a solution to a mystery that is likely never to be sufficiently solved, Stone has instead concentrated on presenting the plethora of facts and opinions that have sprung up in the more than forty years since the momentous event took place. He leaves the conclusions to be drawn by the viewer.
The murder and its direct aftermath alone (with the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and his subsequent murder a few days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby) could be one of the grandest if most infamous true melodramas in world history, but the story doesn’t merely stop there. We have the Warren Commission’s investigation and published findings followed by dismissals from conspiracy theorists like Mark Lane and journalists and writers like Edward Epstein and Norman Mailer and later opinions from names as well known as CBS newsman Dan Rather to Senator Gary Hart and activist Tom Hayden. Stone covers other theories from those who imagine Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was involved to the various CIA, Mafia, and Cuba/Communist scenarios. New Orleans attorney Jim Garrison’s theories (well covered in Oliver Stone’s controversial JFK) are naturally part of the discussion as well.
Producer-writer-director Stone is too smart to try to arrive at any conclusions. It’s enough that he lays all of the various theories out on the table and lets the viewer sort them out. Occasionally the jumps between theories are jarring and not well connected, and it helps if one has a fair to good knowledge of the subject before beginning the film, but as the subject with all of the pertinent material (much of it unseen to my eyes) is so fascinating, it wasn’t hard to hold my attention and to find that the documentary was surprisingly over almost before it seemed to have started.
The documentary’s 1.78:1 aspect ratio is anamorphically encoded. Dealing with a tremendous array of different film and video stocks of varying quality and many over four decades old, the transfer looks about as good as it can. Video interviews conducted for this documentary are sharp enough for talking heads, but as much of the documentary is made up of old footage, focus and sharpness go in and out depending on the sources being used. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
The viewer can choose a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track as an option (the default is a 2.0 stereo track), and the 5.1 track features a very impressive LFE channel in addition to pumping music through the rear speakers and with a fairly wide front soundstage.
“A Visit to Dealey Plaza” is a 9½-minute featurette featuring two conspiracy theorists hawking wares at the site of the assassination. B.A. Russell, Jr. expounds an elaborate conspiracy theory in a 7-minute burst where he rarely pauses to take a breath, a truly mesmerizing spiel. Writer Robert Groden has less time but also less to say in selling his idea. This is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“The Zapruder Film and Beyond” is a fascinating 22-minute anamorphic documentary on its own. First it deals with the history behind the home movie and the prices it fetched its maker, but from there we get a variety of speakers who debunk the various conspiracy theories which are currently popular based on that film footage.
“Interview with Robert Stone” is a 15 ¾-minute sit down with the filmmaker letting him explain his philosophy behind making the film, his surprise at the amount of unseen footage he found, and his views of the reasons for the national cynicism toward politics which he observed while making the movie. It’s also in anamorphic widescreen.
If you’re looking for a definitive answer to the question of who killed President Kennedy, you won’t get it with Oswald’s Ghost. What you will get, however, is a provocative look at all the various points of view surrounding the murder and its aftermath which in itself is something valuable. It’s nice to have all the theories laid out for us in one place to examine. This documentary will air on local PBS stations beginning January 14th with the DVD available for purchase the next day.