Finally..finally…a major motion picture that features real people and the hard facts surrounding the assassination of JFK. Since 11/22/63 we’ve been subjected to numerous flights of cinematic fantasy, journeys down the rabbit holes of various conspiracy theories where the viewer is never sure where the fact ends and the fiction begins. PARKLAND, a film named for the hospital in Dallas where Kennedy and (two days later) Oswald were taken and treated in late November,1963, deals only with the facts, depicting certain important characters in the assassination drama such as Abraham Zapruder, the amateur who filmed John Kennedy as he was shot and killed, James Hosty (of the FBI) , the medical personnel of Parkland, and Robert Oswald, brother to the assassin.
No, this film will likely not garner academy awards as did Oliver Stone’s JKF, a highly entertaining, but utterly exasperating film that focused on the successful efforts in 1967 of flamboyant New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison to bring to trial Clay Shaw, a local businessman, for the murder of the President . Shaw, of course, was acquitted. The jury deliberated for less than an hour and delivered its verdict having come to the conclusion that no hard evidence against Mr. Shaw (played beautifully by actor Tommy Lee Jones) had been presented. Mr. Garrison’s case had been dubious at best: hear-say, innuendo, and amateurish trips into the la-la –land of conspiracy theorists, a leaky vessel that would hold no water in a real court of law.
In spite of the failed outcome the grand-standing Mr. Garrison got most of what he wanted-lots of national attention, a sweet book deal, lots of support from fellow conspiracy theorists, and, most tragically, the utter ruination of Clay Shaw, an innocent man who probably couldn’t have been more confused and dumfounded at the incredible charges leveled against him. Many have speculated that Garrison found Shaw, a known homosexual, an easy target. Shaw, interestingly enough, was the only person ever brought to trial for the murder of JFK! The 1967 trial was a joke, a terrible publicity stunt that should never have been allowed. But it was enough to stimulate an academy-award winning film many years later.
The new film PARKLAND sticks to the facts, principally the whirlwind of the events of November 22-25. They happened so fast- JFK landed at Love Field in Dallas for a routine presidential visit to a major US city around noon on Air Force One, stepped into a vehicle with his wife and the Texas governor and his wife and began their trip through the city. An hour later he was pronounced dead at Parkland hospital. About an hour after that his body was whisked away to Washington DC leaving behind a city and a nation in a state of complete shock and confusion, with dozens of law enforcement agencies eager to get to the bottom of things and discover what had just occurred and who was responsible.
Fifty years later, it seems that LH Oswald, the young man that police officers surrounded at a Dallas movie theater later that day and placed under arrest, a man fitting the description of witnesses to the shooting at Dealy Plaza, is still the best and most reliable answer to the question: Who shot JFK? He was held for two days, questioned repeatedly (he never said anything of any use) until he himself was shot by Jack Ruby, an angry, grieving local businessman, as officials attempted to move Oswald the suspect to another location. This was witnessed on national television.
An especially memorable portrayal in PARKLAND is that of businessman, and amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder, (portrayed by actor Paul Giamati) a man who just happened to be “Johnny-on-the-spot” at the right place and the right time, giving us what is possibly the most famous and scrutinized bit of film in US history, about two-hundred or so frames of 8mm film, lasting only ten or fifteen seconds, recording the murder of a president. A stunned and distraught Zapruder was surrounded by secret service agents and forced to turn over his camera within an hour of the assassination. Those few seconds he recorded on his camera changed his life.
Another tragic character depicted is that of Robert Oswald, brother to the assassin, a sane, level-headed, decent man doomed to live as part of a tragically dysfunctional family, shackled to a criminally weird brother and a delusional, nutty mother who, to her dying day, maintained that her son Lee was an agent of the US government who had been framed for murder. Many conspiracy theorists believed her.
Then there is FBI agent James Hosty. LH Oswald had been on his case file, one of many. He never met Oswald, but in late October had been to his home on a routine visit and spoke to Marina, Oswald’s Russian born wife, for a few minutes. She didn’t and couldn’t say much. Sitting in his auto at the time he had simply made a notation in his file and moved on to the next subject. The next day another notation was made in that same file when an angry Oswald himself came to the FBI office and verbally threatened to blow up the building. Instead of arresting him, the office workers threw him out and warned him never to return. Hosty had not been there. No one at the office took Oswald seriously. He was just another delusional nut with a big mouth. They had seen his kind before. They would check on him later.
Later came much quicker than they could have ever guessed. Upon hearing of the arrest of Oswald, Hosty felt an alarm go off in his head. He dashed to the file cabinet and took out Oswald’s file collapsing into a chair, fearing that this might spell the end of his FBI career. He dutifully took it to his supervisor, who recoiled in horror at the thing and gave Hosty a tongue lashing unlike anything he had ever imagined. But the question was now paramount? Would they confess to the world and to their superiors that they had had the assassin under surveillance? Or would they destroy the evidence and assume their part of ongoing investigations assuming the same sort of shock and ignorance as their fellow law enforcement officers?
They did the latter. In PARKLAND the Dallas FBI supervisor orders agent Hosty to get rid of the file and pretend, like everyone else in the office, that the damned thing never existed. Hosty burns it and that is that. This writer has been led to believe that the destruction of the file was ordered by J. Edgar Hoover himself in an attempt to avoid embarrassment to his agency, a thing NOT depicted in this movie. There may be some controversy on this. No matter, the file was destroyed anyway. If Hoover had ordered it, he never would have admitted it. Hosty, in later years, did admit to doing it.
Conspiracy theorists over the years have gone crazy with this, sure that this destruction of evidence somehow had to be part of a large-scale government cover-up. Hosty himself always said that it was no such thing. It was simply an attempt to save the agency from scrutiny and embarrassment, to save his own job and likely that of his supervisor. Heads tend to roll when disaster strikes. That’s the way the world really works. But this obvious truth will never satisfy those in the conspiracy crowd.
PARKLAND, is not the best movie I’ve ever seen. It probably did not stay in the local theatres for long. The performances of the ensemble cast are solid. The performance of Zapruder, by Paul Giamati, is powerful. On the other hand, JKF, by Mr. Stone, with its well-executed forays into fantasy land and skillful performances by famous actors, is far more entertaining. Unfortunately, it will, for many millions, remain the best remembered cinematic statement on the subject.
As the fiftieth anniversary of this important event rolls around in a few days, PARKLAND is well worth viewing. It powerfully captures the spirit and mood of that unforgettable day, the 22nd day of November, 1963, when, as a nine-year old fourth grader sitting in class, our principal walked in and soberly gave us the terrible news. I remember it like it was yesterday.