Film JFK Narrative | Film Studies Dissertations

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Both films, for example, pore over minutae that may or may not be significant (umbrellas opening in JFK, a dropped thickshake in The Thin Blue Line) to draw the viewer ever more deeply into the world of the crime scene. Yet neither film stops at a simple recitation of facts: both look at the State’s role in events and suggest an explanation for the alleged cover up. In JFK, this is Stone’s highly controversial suggestion that the CIA and the military-industrial complex had a vested interest in seeing President Kennedy dead because he was shortly to scale down America’s involvement in Vietnam.

In The Thin Blue Line, two related theories are suggested for the official insistence on trying Randall Adams: firstly, that David Harris’ account had the advantage of providing the police with an eye-witness, while if Harris was himself the murderer, no reliable witness existed; and secondly, that Harris could not be tried as an adult, thus robbing the District Attorney of the much-sought death sentence for the murder of a policeman.

These theories are communicated through devices commonly associated with fictional narratives, such as a highly evocative musical score (Phillip Glass’ music for The Thin Blue Line invokes a melancholy sense of helplessness, while John Williams’ score for JFK has a more urgent tone, suggestive of furtive conspiracies and forces careening out of control). And both counterpoint different modes of filmmaking as they do so, contrasting invented material filmed in a classical Hollywood style with documentary or faux-documentary footage.

The similarity in effect of the two film’s fast-paced juxtaposition of styles is striking, and suggests Stone’s approach may have been influenced by Morris’ work. Yet while both films have an over-riding concern with the filmmaker uncovering facts, that might be called the "outer narrative," each constructs a contrasting relationship between the narrative and documentary elements within the text. In JFK, Stone uses an interior narrative of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) investigating the case. While Garrison is essentially a surrogate for the filmmaker, so that the film cannot be considered as "the story of Jim Garrison,"3 this narrative is provided moments that function simply as character drama with little or no relationship to the larger argument (such as Garrison’s arguments and reconciliation with his wife, or a "Norman Rockwell moment"4 with his children).

This, then, is an example of classical Hollywood-style fictional filmmaking. This is then ruptured by the moments of documentary and faux-documentary that expand on Stone’s argument as it is being expressed by Garrison. This includes what we might call genuine documentary material: the Zapruder film of the assassination and archival photographs (such as of Kennedy’s autopsy, or the photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald holding the rifle).

It also includes a large number of re-enactments, which are very often presented in a simulated documentary style (grainy or black and white film stock, hand-held cameras). This faux-documentary material is often juxtaposed with the genuine documentary material in a manner that blends the two together (the Zapruder footage is matched by staged footage using similar film stock,

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