JFK's 50th in Film


November 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Two films released this week, one a dramatic retelling of that day (Parkland), and another a documentary on Lee Harvey Oswald (Killing Oswald), are must sees.

Parkland tells a story that perhaps not many people are aware of, that both Kennedy and Oswald were taken to the same hospital, Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, after they were shot.

Parkland is based on the book 'Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John K. Kennedy,' by Vincent Bugliosi, and is a historical drama of the events that happened on that day, November 22, 1963. It tells, to great dramatic effect, the stories of the key people who were involved on that day, including the hospital staff, Kennedy's secret service detail, and Abraham Zapruder (played by Paul Giamatti), who shot the famous footage of Kennedy getting shot in the back of his head in the motorcade.

Kennedy and Oswald went to and died in the same hospital, and director and screenwriter Peter Landesman brilliantly tells this story. He interweaves new footage with footage shot on that day, including Zapruder's film, making Parkland feel more like a documentary than an actual movie. We see the Parkland hospital staff, headed by Dr. Charles James Carrico (Zac Effron) and Head Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden). We follow the secret service, headed by Agent Forest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), as they scramble to find out who shot the President. We are shown, for perhaps the first time on screen, the story of the family of Oswald, his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) and his eccentric mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver), as they realize their lives will never be the same again. Also told is the story of FBI agent James P. Hosty (Ron Livingstone), who perhaps could've prevented Kennedy's assassination as he had been assigned to investigate Oswald after his return from Russia to the U.S. in 1962. While Effron may not have been the best choice to play the one doctor instrumental in attending to Kennedy, the rest of the cast is stellar, especially Giamatti and Livingstone. Parkland is an excellent retelling of a moment in American history that will never be forgotten.

Killing Oswald, directed with an eye for detail by Shane O'Sullivan, explains the whole story of the events in the life of Oswald leading up to the assassination of JFK. Oswald, who was assassinated two days after JFK, led a very complex and strange life prior to that fateful day on Nov. 22, 1963 when JFK was shot in the head in Dealey Plaza by a sniper who was in the Texas School Book Depository.

Killing Oswald uses archival footage, old and new interviews with people associated with Oswald either directly or indirectly, and dramatic reconstructions to tell Oswald's story.

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans on Oct. 18, 1939. His father died of a heart attack two months after he was born, leaving his eccentric mother to raise him. When Oswald was four, his family moved to Dallas, Texas. After a brief stint living in New York City, his family was back living in New Orleans. According to Killing Oswald, as a teenager, Oswald considered himself a Marxist, and at the young age of 17 joined the United States Marine Corps. The Corps eventually sent him to Japan, where he had access to classified matter in his role as a radar operator. He was also trained to be a marksman. In Oct. 1959, Oswald received a hardship discharge claiming his mother needed care. Returning back to New Orleans for two days, Oswald then went to the Soviet Union. This is when, according to Killing Oswald, Oswald's strange behavoir and communist loyalties started.

The reason Oswald went to the Soviet Union was to defect. In a recreation of the event in the film using actors, Oswald tells officials there that he is a communist and that he can share with them confidential information that he had obtained during his time as a marine. The Russians, skeptical of him, sent him off to Minsk to monitor U2 spy planes over Russia, basically an attempt to sweep him under the rug as they thought he was a bit unstable. Getting married and having a daughter, Oswald got bored of life in Minsk and returned to the United States where his family settled in Dallas. Oswald then became a pro-Castro activist, living in New Orleans while his family lived in Dallas with Ruth Petrie. (The original footage of a 1973 interview with her is very telling). According to Killing Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald was leading a very secret life, and it was suspected that he went to Mexico to try to get to Cuba but was unsuccessful, returning back to New Orleans to found the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization (including real footage of Oswald passing out literature). The movie raises doubts that perhaps it was not Oswald, but someone else, posing as him who went to Mexico.

The film features many leading historians speaking about the assassination and Oswald's involvement, including the conclusion that perhaps Oswald didn't act alone. In April 1963, Oswald was suspected of attempting to kill U.S. Major General Edwin Walker, who was an outspoken anti-communist. It was also around this same time that anti-Castro Cubans were suspected of luring Oswald into a plot to kill Kennedy that could have triggered a U.S. invasion of Cuba. Original interview footage with David Atlee Phillips, a former CIA officer, goes on to state that Oswald had attended meetings of Alpha 66, an organization which at that time was planning the overthrow of Castro. Was Oswald there to secretly spy on their activity for another organization?

In the days leading up to Kennedy's assassination, Oswald's behavior became even weirder. It was also during this time that FBI agents were attempting to find Oswald to question him about his pro-Castro activities. Then, on Nov. 22nd, JFK was shot.

Original dramatic footage of JFK's assassination and the aftermath in Dallas, Texas during that time shows that JKF was shot twice, the first bullet entering his upper back, and the second bullet entering the rear of his head. Oswald was arrested later that day, in a Dallas theatre. It was suspected, but never actually proven, that Oswald shot a police officer who pulled him over almost an hour after the shooting, as Oswald had matched the description of the person who killed the president. Oswald was seen going into the theatre and arrested minutes later. And two days later, Killing Oswald replays the actual footage of Jack Ruby firing one shot into Oswald's stomach, in the police basement, as a television crew was live on the air at that time, and millions of television viewers witnessed it as it happened. Ruby was known to be involved in organized crime.

Killing Oswald goes on to explain that there are so many theories, too many to mention here, as to who was behind the killing of JFK. Did Ruby kill Oswald to stop him from speaking to the police about an organized crime connection to the assassination? Did anti-Castro Cubans lure Oswald into a plot to kill JFK? Was there a second shooter? Is there a link to Russia in the assassination due to Oswalds ties with that communist country? While killing Oswald can't answer all these questions, it is an important documentary about a time in American history when the nation stopped for four days, 50 years ago.