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Wed Nov 20, 2013, 11:36 AM

The Parallax View: a JFK film that gets it right [View all]

Parkland and other movies about JFK's assassination show just how far to the right Hollywood has shifted. Alan J Pakula's classic film, however, is a high point of New American Cinema

...After a couple of films in 1967 the documentary Rush to Judgment and Bruce Conner's experimental short film Report that critiqued the Warren commission's findings, in 1973 a Hollywood feature called Executive Action arrived. It mixed documentary footage with live action, and portrayed the assassination as a conspiracy by the CIA and big business interests. Executive Action is a decent, strangely low-key film; what's interesting is just how mainstream it was. Burt Lancaster played the CIA coup leader, while Robert Ryan and Will Geer played Texas oil men who want Kennedy dead. Dalton Trumbo, once blacklisted, wrote the script, and the film was directed by David Miller, whose CV contains another good picture, Lonely Are the Brave.

Hollywood later revisited the Kennedy assassination with Winter Kills (1979), based on Richard Condon's paranoid thriller; Ruby (1992), a stumbling biopic about Lee Harvey Oswald's killer Jack Ruby; and most famously in 1991 with JFK, Oliver Stone's epic mega-budget version of events. JFK is a hagiography of Kennedy theorist Jim Garrison, a bombastic New Orleans prosecutor and homophobe who tried to convict a gay CIA associate, Clay Shaw, of the president's murder. Garrison's case was ultimately unconvincing: a jury found Shaw innocent, which undercuts Stone's telling of history. Nevertheless, the film provoked a public outcry and led to the release of thousands of previously secret files by the Assassination Records Review board.

For my money, the best JFK conspiracy movie isn't, strictly speaking, about the Kennedy assassination. Made in 1974, Alan J Pakula's The Parallax View borrows from the murders of both Kennedy brothers to tell the tale of a mysterious organisation, the Parallax Corporation, which deals in political assassination and the creation of "lone assassin" patsies.

The reader will recall that Lee Harvey Oswald, during his brief time in the custody of the Dallas police, denied murdering the president and cried out to reporters: "I'm a patsy! I'm a patsy!" strange behaviour for someone who, according to Parkland and the Warren Report, killed Kennedy to become famous. The Parallax View, written by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr and an uncredited Robert Towne, describes how such patsies are created...


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