Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oswald's Ghost: The DVD Extras


I recently picked up a copy of Oswald’s Ghost, the new Kennedy assassination documentary from director Robert Stone, on DVD and thought you might like to hear about the 47 minutes of extra’s included on the disc. In addition to the 90-minute documentary (which comes with a superb option 5.1 surround sound mix), the DVD from PBS Home Video comes with three extra segments:

A Visit To Dealey Plaza / Running Length 9:33

Herein we’re treated to seven uncut minutes of Dealey Plaza vendor B.A. Russell Sr.’s stream-of-consciousness-like take on who really killed JFK.

Anyone who has ever been to Dealey Plaza will immediately recognize the pitch even if you’ve never encountered Russell personally. It seems all of these tattered vendors are interchangeable. Russell’s hundred-mile-per-hour delivery is full of inaccuracies, but what does that matter? This is all about selling something to the naïve tourists rambling through the plaza.

To the casual tourist, I’m sure some of these vendors must seem knowledgeable, even if they’re crazier than a bed bug. I understand why director Robert Stone didn’t use this segment in the final cut of Oswald’s Ghost – it really needs to be seen in its entirety (as presented in the Special Features section) to be fully appreciated. And as an uncut special feature, the audience learns more about the conspiracy movement and those who promote it in seven minutes than they could ever learn reading any of the books propped up in the pergola behind Mr. Russell. And that’s not a good thing – trust me. Who does Russell think was behind the evil plot? Let’s just say that Russell holds Barr McClellan in high regard.

Next, we’re treated to vendor extraordinaire Robert Groden. This is a two-and-a-half minute version of the sequence featuring Groden in the Dealey Plaza as seen in the Ghost. While Groden is dressed much better than his counterparts, the message is the same. Groden promises a small crowd of tourists, “You came here to learn about the assassination, so we’ll take two minutes of your time and explain what actually happened here.”

Of course, the poor souls gathered around Mr. Groden get his take on what happened – Kennedy was struck in the throat from the front, the back from behind, and the right temple from the front which exited the rear of his head and pushed him back and to the left. “The fact that there was a crossfire proves the conspiracy,” Groden declares. Oooooh-kay.

Groden goes on to tell his audience that a crowd of over 200 witnesses chased the grassy knoll assassin into the railroad yards. “When they got back there, they stopped a man who said he was with the Secret Service,” Groden says. “He showed Secret Service credentials and ordered everyone to leave saying that he was holding the area secure and he was going to protect the area and the evidence…In fact, he probably was one of the assassins.” Sure, Bob.

Groden says that “despite of all of this evidence of conspiracy and more than one shooter, the government insisted that we believe that all shots came from this window – the sixth floor easternmost window in the Texas School Book Depository Building. Did it happen that way? Of course not, but that’s what they wanted us to believe.”

“There has to be something intellectually lacking in somebody who can believe that one man pulled all of this off,” Groden declares. “People have chosen for themselves what they want to believe here.”

Of course, Mr. Groden is talking about the assassination. But in the context of the theme of Oswald’s Ghost, Groden could just as well have been talking about the conspiracy movement. While Mark Lane and Groden himself have led the charge, it has taken a virtual army of conspiracy mongers to twist the truth and convince the populace of something that didn’t happen. Yes. indeed. There is something intellectually lacking.

The Zapruder Film and Beyond / Running Length 22:11

Herein, Josiah Thompson presents a quite lucid version of how the Zapruder film came to be, how it was purchased and controlled by Life magazine, and how it eventually came to be seen by the American public.

This is followed by Mark Lane who characteriscally declares, “The Zapruder film shows that unless the law of physics had been repealed that day when the moving force hit the president in the head his head was blown backward – that’s the crucial find – value of the Zapruder film.” Lane goes on to tell us that the Zapruder film is a clock of the assassination and that when you count the frames between “the time of the effect of the first shot and the time of the effect of the last shot” you discover that “5.4 seconds” elapsed. “And in that 5.4 seconds,” Lane says, “it’s alleged that Oswald fired three shots. Nobody believes it. It’s a fantasy.”

Mr. Lane, of course, is right. It is a fantasy – one of his own making – because as anyone who has studied the actual facts of the case knows, at least 8.4 seconds elapsed between the first and last shot and Oswald only had to get off two shots during that time – the clock starting with the first of three shots. But of course, Mark Lane is stuck in a 1966 time warp. He and many other first generation proponents of conspiracy are still spouting the long-ago disproved malarkey they bamboozled the public with 42 years ago.

The suggestion that the Zapruder film was withheld from the public because it proved a conspiracy is balanced with comments from author Edward Jay Epstein who reminds us, “The Zapruder film wasn’t shown as a movie because in 1964 this was a very sensitive issue, seeing a president with his head shot off and his wife reaching for it and things like that. So it was considered, I think, in bad taste.” Oh, how times have changed.

Epstein also offers what I think is one of the more brilliant observations about the Zapruder film and its legacy: “The real impact of the Zapruder film is it created an illusion in the mind of the public that they were watching the actual event and could come to a judgment independently of knowing forensic evidence or even physics – how heads move – or anything else,” Epstein says. “So they would see the head move to the left and say, ‘Oh, he must have been shot from the front.’ “

Of course, Epstein is right. We see this phenomenon played out every day in Internet forums and chat rooms where participants practically come to blows arguing about the “obvious” shot from the front that drove the president’s head back-and-to-the-left. No one seems to have read anything about the physics involved which clearly dictates that a projectile weighing only a few ounces cannot move a human head (weighing in the neighborhood of 8-9 pounds) in the manner claimed by conspiracy theorists. It could only move a human head a few inches at best, and indeed we see the president’s head bob forward that amount at the moment of the head shot – a fact that fully supports Oswald’s shot from behind. But hey, since when have the facts ever stood in the way of good yarn?

Former House Select Committee on Assassination Chairmen Louis Stokes also makes a rare appearance in this section and describes the acoustic work which led to the committee’s conclusion of conspiracy. Stokes goes on record as saying that the National Academy of Sciences’ acoustic review of the HSCA work, performed in 1981, effectively refuted the HSCA’s acoustic work. “I think that we were able to dispel some of the rumors, we were able to give other precise evidentiary material to help the American people in terms of understanding the assassination,” Stokes says, “but certainly we were unable to offer them the kind of proof with respect to conspiracy.” Tell that to G. Robert Blakey, Mr. Stokes.

The late Norman Mailer also makes an appearance professing his belief after going the long way around the barn as it were – like many of us have – that Oswald did indeed commit the assassination on his own. Mailer also notes that the perfect conspiracy is an illusion, “There’s a terrible fault built into all conspiracies, which I’ve even decided can be stated as a law. And the law is that the only conspiracies that work are the imperfect ones. Because when you have a conspiracy with a number of people, the human factor – if the conspiracy is perfectly plotted – the human factor will derail it. Tension is enormous; the people in conspiracies not only have their strengths but their terrible weaknesses and imperfections. And so the perfect conspiracy never works.”

Journalist Hugh Aynesworth also appears and reveals that he was offered $75,000 (at a time when he was making $9,000 a year) to write a book about the big conspiracy. But Aynesworth turn it down, “I just couldn’t do it. I’d already had my fill in the first few days of false stories. There was so many of them.” So many others haven’t had the strong will that Aynesworth demonstrated.

Finally, Edward Jay Epstein makes another important observation, “When Jim Garrison conducted his whole charade in New Orleans, it showed how easy evidence could be manipulated and how dangerous it was to listen to what various authors and demigogs had to say on this subject.”

Unfortunately, they’re still at it – in Dealey Plaza and on the Internet.

Interview with Robert Stone / Running Length 15:46

In this final extra, we’re treated to an inside look at the mind of director Robert Stone (no relation to Oliver) and how Oswald’s Ghost came together. Stone clearly comes down in the lone gunman camp, but he notes that he wasn’t trying to prove that one way or the other, “I was trying to explore the idea of why the majority of the American public feel that’s not true and that it’s been covered up for all these years.”

“Well, I guess the mantra in making the film was always ‘This is not a Whodunit, this is a what that Whodunit has done to us. That’s what it’s about.”

Stone notes that this is not a case that can be argued in a normal fashion, “There’s no agreement on the basic facts of the case. They’ve all been – any particular document or photograph or whatever – there’s – people will claim, ‘Well, it’s been faked, it’s been forged, it’s been fudged, it’s been doctored – something like that. There’s no basic agreement on the facts of the case at all. So you can’t really have a debate like that in terms of a logical – like you would have in a criminal case – because all of the particular evidence is up for grabs.”

Most importantly, Stone notes that the Kennedy assassination had a tremendous impact on the people who are now running this country, whether they are the CEO of a large corporation or a politician running for political office. “That was the traumatic event for that generation. I don’t think you can understand any of the debates that are going on in Washington now without understanding the impact the Kennedy assassination had.”

According to Stone, the current lethargic attitude of society, the mistrust of any official institution (especially government at all levels), and the general complacence of people of all ages – particularly today’s youth – has a direct connection, whether they realize it or not, to the impact of the Kennedy assassination.

“Every country has its conspiracies, all over the world,” Stone says. “And conspiracies and ideas – views about the world – whether right or wrong, determine how people act, why people start wars and revolutions and intifadas and jihads and all of this stuff. It’s all based on perspectives on the world. Often times they’re not true. But what’s interesting is how people perceive history as much as the reality of history. The perception of history is perhaps even more important and more interesting. And that’s what the film does. It examines our great conspiracy theory and our – I think one of the most important, sort of world views – that I happen to think is mistaken –that distorts this country, and distorts our view of the world and our place in our own country and our place in the world.”

All in all, Oswald’s Ghost is a must see (if not own) documentary. And the extra’s included on the DVD make this a must have no matter what you think happened in Dealey Plaza.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dale, I used to think you were a cocky &^%^*...but Vince Bugliosi has made me a believer. So now I think you are a cocky guy on the side of right.:)
Vince Bugliosi letter to Vince Palamara dated 7/14/07:

"I want you to know that I am very impressed with your research abilities and the enormous amount of work you put into your investigation of the Secret Service regarding the assassination. You are, unquestionably, the main authority on the Secret Service with regard to the assassination. I agree with you that they did not do a good job protecting the president (e.g. see p. 1443 of my book)..."

Vince Palamara