oliver stone and clint eastwood and all those silly conspiracy theories

Es­ti­mated reading time is 7 min­utes.

IN A RECENT POST on The Round Place In The Middle (“If I Tweeted”), host Nondis­pos­able­johnny ad­dressed a va­riety of is­sues with hy­po­thet­ical tweets, in­cluding sev­eral about the 1991 movie JFK by Oliver Stone. This led me to want to ad­dress all those silly con­spiracy the­o­ries out there. These non-twittered tweets worked as a spring­board for the ar­ticle that follows.

An amazing phe­nom­enon was sparked by the re­lease of JFK: po­lit­ical news­paper ed­i­to­rial writers were in­stan­ta­neously (if tem­porarily) born again as movie critics! Many of these men were pun­dits who had been stag­ger­ingly wrong about so, so many things that many of us not on their side of the aisle were aghast that they re­tained their well-paid po­si­tions. 1

For ex­ample, we were still waiting for the first trickles of Rea­gan’s trickle-down eco­nomics that these same pun­dits had bal­ly­hooed a few years ear­lier. Now these men who had failed as po­lit­ical pun­dits wanted us to ac­cept them as Siskel and Ebert’s third thumb! 2

If you’re in­ter­ested in this issue at all, I sug­gest you click on over to TRPITM (“turpitum”?) and read John­ny’s piece. It’s not long and any ref­er­ences I make here will be more easily un­der­stood. 3

Marrs Crossfire hardcover

This is the first hard­cover edi­tion of Jim Marrs’ Cross­fire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. It was pub­lished in 1989 by Car­roll & Graf Pub­lishers, a year after Gar­rison’s book (below). Marr’s book was a pri­mary source for Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.

Questioning the Warren Commission

Need­less to say, each of these right-of-center pundits-turned-critic read some kind of “lib­eral con­spiracy” mes­sage into Stone’s movie, when all Stone did was ad­dress some of the salient facts as­so­ci­ated with the as­sas­si­na­tion—many of them having to do with New Or­leans as a nerve center for Amer­ican in­tel­li­gence agen­cies as well as a hotbed of ex­treme rightwing para­mil­i­tary activity.

This was cer­tainly not known by the public in the ’60s, nor was it a topic broached by the main­stream media then (or ever).

The plot of JFK was based on two books: jour­nalist Jim Marrs’ Cross­fire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy and former New Or­leans Dis­trict At­torney Jim Gar­rison’s On the Trail of the As­sas­sins: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Murder of Pres­i­dent Kennedy. Fifty-four years after the as­sas­si­na­tion, Gar­rison re­mains the only person to ac­tu­ally take anyone to trial for the murder.

While most of the facts pre­sented in JFK are often painstak­ingly ac­cu­rate, the con­clu­sions pre­sented by Stone’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Gar­rison’s (played by Kevin Costner) con­clu­sions are just that—Garrison’s con­clu­sions. While rea­son­able con­clu­sions, they are not em­braced by every in­ves­ti­gator who ques­tions the lone gunman, non-conspiratorial theory of the Warren Commission.

Eastwood MillionDollarBaby poster

The con­tro­versy [Michael] Medved has tried so hard to stir up [over Mil­lion Dollar Baby]—viewed, or dis­torted, through the prism of the talk-show mentality—graphically demon­strates how someone with a po­lit­ical agenda can re-interpret an en­tire movie by choosing to iso­late parts of it from their con­text within the pic­ture it­self.” (Jim Emerson)

Silly conservative conspiracy theories

Most of the pundit-turned-critics ig­nored the facts in the movie and fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on those con­clu­sions or nit­picked. Some of­fered the kind of con­ser­v­a­tive para­noia that we usu­ally as­so­ciate with Michael Medved, who has made a ca­reer out of dis­secting block­busters and finding ‘lib­eral Hol­ly­wood’ themes. 4

Most of the pundit-turned-film-critics’ editorials-as-criticisms were rather, um, dumb.

It’s pos­sible that I’m col­oring things from my side of the aisle and re­mem­bering these writers as dumber than they were.

But I doubt it. 5

Silly Conspiracy Theories: cover for 2014 dvd release of CROSSFIRE documentary.

This is the 2014 doc­u­men­tary Cross­fire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, based on his book of the same title. This ex­ten­sively re­searched film in­cludes never be­fore seen maps, photos, news­paper ar­ti­cles, gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments and other ev­i­dence proving the Warren Com­mis­sion’s re­port was a cover-up and a smoke screen for the true con­spiracy. The truth is still out there.

Conspiracy theorist as compliment

Not too long ago, ques­tioning of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tions for events such as the as­sas­si­na­tions of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F Kennedy, or the machi­na­tions be­hind the Bay of Pigs of Vietnam fi­ascos, got one la­belled as a con­spiracy buff.

Some­where along the way, the term con­spiracy buff mor­phed into con­spiracy the­o­rist—which ac­tu­ally has a touch more class and polish to it.

I don’t re­call he term con­spiracy the­o­rist ini­tially being used con­de­scend­ingly, es­pe­cially as most buffs/theorists tended to be well-educated and far better read than the av­erage America. We buffs/theorists ac­cepted the de­scrip­tion as a rea­son­able as­sess­ment of who we were and what we were doing. 7

I am un­cer­tain as to when con­spiracy the­o­rist be­came a damning con­dem­na­tion, in­sin­u­ating the be­liever to be a nut-job. But its use today is al­most al­ways derogatory—another gift from the skillful rightwing think-tanks skills with bending the mainstream/corporate media and al­tering the thoughts and speech pat­terns of their readers/viewers/listeners.

ConspiracyTheory movie poster2

I don’t re­member when the term “con­spiracy the­o­rist’ mor­phed from a com­pli­ment to a put-down, but it was cer­tainly used as a put-down prior to the re­lease of the 1997 movie Con­spiracy Theory, in which Mel Gibson plays a clearly un­stable, ultra-paranoid, ob­ses­sive taxi-driver who stalks Julia Roberts.

Back to Oliver Stone’s movie

Whether it’s a par­tic­ular building in New Or­leans (many of which held of­fices for the FBI, CIA, and re­lated mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence units) , or the weird way in which the street ad­dresses of cer­tain build­ings were mis­un­der­stood by in­ves­ti­ga­tors of Os­wald (most of whom never both­ered to ac­tu­ally go to New Or­leans to do their in­ves­ti­gating), or the po­lit­ical players in New Or­leans (many of whom had many ques­tion­able po­lit­ical af­fil­i­a­tions), Stone’s at­ten­tion to fac­tual de­tail is metic­u­lously ac­cu­rate throughout the movie.

But it is, after all, a movie based on re­cent his­tory—not a his­tor­ical documentary—and some artistic li­cense taken. For ex­ample, Jim and Liz Gar­rison were nowhere near as good-looking as Kevin Costner and Sissy Spacek. 6

For ex­ample, Gar­rison never gave a lengthy speech in trial as Costner presents as the movie’s conclusion.

For ex­ample, the ex­pla­na­tion for the shooting does not com­pletely re­flect Gar­rison’s theory, but sev­eral the­o­ries combined.

And it is here, with the mo­ments of artistic li­cense, that most pundits-turned-critics turned their at­ten­tion. 7

Silly Conspiracy Theories: cover of first edition of Jim Garrison's 1988 book ON THE TRAIL OF THE ASSASSINS.

The first edi­tion of Jim Gar­rison’s On the Trail of the As­sas­sins was pub­lished in 1988 by Sheridan Square Press. It was sub­ti­tled “My In­ves­ti­ga­tion And Pros­e­cu­tion Of The Murder Of Pres­i­dent Kennedy.”

The truth is out there

As the poster in Agent Fox Mul­der’s of­fice re­minded us weekly on The X-Files tele­vi­sion se­ries, “The truth is out there.” In most cases, that is so.

In the case of the shooting of the Pres­i­dent of the United States in broad day­light in front of hun­dreds of wit­nesses on No­vember 22, 1963, that may not be so . . .

Silly Conspiracy Theories: poster for Oliver Stone's 1991 movie JFK.

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of the page is taken from the ban­ners used to pro­mote the movie JFK in 1991. The main photo fea­tures Kevin Costner as Jim Gar­rison. The image in the lower right corner is the ac­tual photo of Lee Os­wald (played by Gary Oldham in the movie) used to con­vince us that he was the lone gunman—except the photo was a forgery.



1   The much-used term pundit means “a learned person; a person who gives opin­ions in an au­thor­i­ta­tive manner usu­ally through the mass-media” (Merriam-Webster). I placed the word in single quotes to imply that I was using it iron­i­cally for these pundits-turned-critics, most of whom are prov­ably pre­var­i­cating pro­pa­gan­dists if not out­right nat­tering nabobs of negativism.

2   Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert used a silly but en­ter­taining thumbs-up/thumbs-down method for grading movies on their pop­ular tele­vi­sion show.

3   John­ny’s re­mark about John Can­dy’s char­acter and Can­dy’s acting is spot-on: Stone should have fol­lowed JFK with a movie about the at­torney who knew too damn much about the un­der­belly of New Or­leans pol­i­tics and business.

4   Medved, among others, read Clint East­wood’s Mil­lion Dollar Baby as an anti-Christian, pro-euthanasia screed: “In 2005, top [Oscar] nom­i­na­tions went to films that went out of their way to as­sault or in­sult the sen­si­bil­i­ties of most be­lievers. Both Mil­lion Dollar Baby and The Sea In­side por­tray as­sisted sui­cide as an ex­plic­itly and un­equiv­o­cally ‘heroic’ choice. Their suc­cess sug­gests that if Hol­ly­wood ever gets around to making The Jack Kevorkian Story, it, too, would be­come an au­to­matic can­di­date for major awards.” (USA Today, Jan­uary 24, 2005)

5   I’m not going to look any of this up. I’m re­lying on my memory, an ad­mit­tedly a faulty de­vice. Anyone who has fol­lowed the ‘re­cov­ered memory’ phenomenon/hysteria of a few years ago knows full well how un­de­pend­able in­di­vidual memory is even in the best and brightest minds among us. Plus, if you’re re­ally in­ter­ested, look it up—it’s the best way to learn some­thing and, after all, ain’t that what the In­ternet is for?

6   But then, not many cou­ples are, right?

7    Most of these pundits-turned-critics never both­ered to ac­tu­ally go to New Or­leans to do their investigating.

Silly Conspiracy Theories: photo of Agent Mulder in his office with I WANT TO BELIEVE poster.

FBI Agent Fox Mulder ra­ti­o­ci­nating and mulling over the pos­si­bility of all things in his base­ment of­fice. The world’s most fa­mous flying saucer poster is on his wall.

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Thanks for the men­tion brother. Nice Christmas present (or what­ever that hol­iday is).

I prob­ably should have found a way to men­tion this in the post, but I flashed on a great movie being made about the John Candy char­acter be­cause I was re­minded of Al­fred Hitch­cock’s re­sponse to Vera Miles in the The Wrong Man. 

About half way through the filming Hitch­cock re­al­ized Miles was stealing the movie from Henry Fonda...that, in ef­fect, the movie should have been about HER. So he set about finding a project for her (as Stone did not do for Candy), which only turned out to be Ver­tigo (now rou­tinely named one of the top five greatest of all time), though he had to let go of Miles be­cause she got preg­nant at the last mo­ment (they had al­ready fitted her cos­tumes) and re­fused to have an abor­tion. There should prob­ably be a movie about THAT, too, since nei­ther her ca­reer nor Hitch’s psyche ever quite recovered.

Maybe that’s what Stone was afraid of. Staring just that little bit fur­ther into the abyss.

I agree, in­ci­den­tally, that Stone did a fine and nec­es­sary job of fusing his­tory and theory, though, at this dis­tance, the movie feels a little too “by the num­bers.” In­di­vidual scenes still work great, but I found it a bit of a slog to sit all the way through. I usu­ally like Costner, but his at­tempt at an ac­cent didn’t help.

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