Killing Kennedy: O’Reilly-based Film Would Hang Any Jury — Film Review by Shawn StJean

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By Shawn StJean

National Geographic Channel’s production of Killing Kennedy, which aired on Veteran’s Day last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the presidential assassination on November 22, has appeared on Blu-Ray and DVD video.

The television film, based on media pundit Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book, seems intended as a vindication of the Warren Commission Report‘s conclusion of a lone assassin, portrayed here essentially as an attention-seeking psychotic. I first digested and annotated the 900-page Commission tome (hardly the production of amateurs some have claimed it to be) twenty years ago, alongside conspiracist Jim Marrs’ counter-narrative Crossfire and Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of The Assassins. Today, I remain skeptical of all three, as well as the dozens of other books I’ve read on the Kennedy assassinations, and more recently the growing stockpile of 9/11 material. The truth certainly is worth finding out, now as then, but it’s doubtful that any one source has custody of it. For those who won’t spare the effort for reading O’Reilly’s mere 300 pages, this movie, despite a few strengths, can hardly claim to be more than an outline of one version.

Rather than focus on the hundreds of details the all-too-brief film omits that would problematize its thesis (the many witnesses in Dealey Plaza who saw something other than Oswald firing from an open window, for example,) I’d like to treat the production on its own terms. If one has to say, “Well, read O’Reilly’s book and such-and-such will become clear,” then the film hasn’t done its job.

If this text has one overriding virtue (beyond good sets and costumes,) it lies in a curious literary device of echoing: the two married couples, John and Jackie, juxtaposed by intercutting with Lee and Marina Oswald: the pair of women simultaneously pregnant, the symbolic usage of wedding rings, John’s sexual infidelities counterpointed by Lee’s obsessed flirtations with Marxism, the contrasting burials of the president and his alleged killer on the same day. Director Nelson McCormick and his editors deserve praise for salvaging a motif that makes us wonder what role chance and circumstance play in our lives. As Oswald tells Marina, Kennedy’s father “bought him the election,” and Jack himself admits that his deceased elder brother was meant to be president, not him.  Might Oswald have been a better man in a different time, or place?

Rob Lowe does a sufficiently layered job as the president, though his casting only served to remind me that this is all made-for-TV-scale stuff: and thus, perfectly suited for a streamlined and oversimplistic treatment. The Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile crises are almost criminally truncated, for example. Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson’s roles are reduced nearly to cameos. The word “Vietnam” is nowhere to be heard.  In an age in which Peter Jackson can command a budget of a half-billion dollars for a an eight-hour adaptation of a children’s book, I have to wonder where our cultural values are. One of the most significant crimes of the twentieth century warrants a financial backing to dramatize it that would fail to pay the craft-services bill for The Hobbit. It’s a wonder that, as a producer, the uber-wealthy O’Reilly didn’t see fit to make up some of the deficit out of his own coffers.

 

But more to the point: What if one were, after fifty years, a complete neophyte to assassination studies, and this film were one’s first exposure? Does the film succeed in offering a convincing argument that Oswald acted alone?

No, not even close. I’m afraid, while not a botched job by any means, the case remains wide open. Neither physical nor psychological gaps are adequately covered in this tiny scope. Ironically, because the story has been so trimmed and simplified by the ninety-minute format and reduced cast, the glaring, internal inconsistencies become even more apparent:

-If Oswald couldn’t competently target the stationary General Walker from a few dozen yards with his Mannlicher-Carcano 4x scoped rifle, how could he later so ultra-expertly cycle three rounds and hit the president at least twice, a moving target, from a range of several hundred yards?

-How could Oswald possibly have killed both Kennedy and Tippit within an hour of each other, as well as stopping by his rooming house on a zig-zag course for his pistol, all while maintaining a nonchalant posture, beginning in the book depository break room where a cop spots him, to the three-miles distant Oak-Cliff neighborhood and his encounter with the ill-fated Officer? Also, Oswald shoots Tippit four times with his revolver, then somehow it’s empty as he tries to shoot at converging police in the Texas theater? No wonder conspiracy theorists have made so much of the firearms in the case: nothing makes sense. Further:

-Was a crack-shot, cold-blooded killer also such a panicking fool that he left a trail of brass and clothing on his way to failing to pay his way in to the Texas theater?

-All along, Oswald’s twisted psyche seemed to demand he seek credit for his succession of “patriotic” actions, fantasizing about the press debriefing him each time.  Why then would he vehemently deny killing Kennedy? Why yell out his famous epitaph, “I’m just a patsy,” to the press immediately prior to his execution by Ruby?  Just a change of heart?  He surely wasn’t trying to spare Marina.

-After being barred in Mexico City from traveling to Cuba—a clear rejection by the Castro regime–what could at that point motivate Oswald to neutralize the threat he perceived Kennedy posed to Cuba? Wasn’t Cuba just another of his abandoned crusades? Of course, the biggest question—Why?–is begged here, and never adequately addressed. Even lunatics have their reasons. Will Rothhaar as Oswald simply isn’t given the script to enact them.

-And is it even possible for any actor to creditably portray gangster, pimp, and police-snitch Jack Ruby as so grief-stricken on Jackie Kennedy’s behalf that he would murder Oswald in cold blood, in front of the world? Watching it, this seemed every bit as unbelievable to me as “sniper” Oswald standing exposed and straight up in the open window of the sixth floor of the book depository in full view of hundreds of people and the secret service, and sighting in at the approaching president as the motorcade came straight down Elm Street at his twelve o’clock, yet unaccountably failing to shoot.  Ruby clearly had other motivations, no matter who tells the story.

 

I believe it was important to commemorate the passing of five decades in some dramatic fashion, so that a new generation of Americans might understand something of the greater context, the direction our nation has taken since the days of the Cold War: our economic decline since Camelot, our tentative and continually adversarial relations with the Eastern hemisphere, from Vietnam to Russia to China, the slow rise of bloated yet invisible government and the CIA-state that Kennedy deplored. National Geographic Channel’s contribution, if not O’Reilly’s book, have not, however, attempted to address questions of Why and How, but have stuck more to the journalist’s sleepy creed of Who? What? Where? When? I fear these crucial events will soon seem about as relevant to today as World War I seemed to my generation: a very sad fact of the history of American literacy, and man’s tragically short memory.

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Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture–Vampires, Part II–“Monsters From the Id”

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In part I of this article, I discussed what I consider the seven classical “rules” that have historically constrained vampires in storytelling. I further suggested that, rather than being random genre conventions, these form a coherent system which provides insight into the base nature of this fearsome creature.  This means that writers who violate the rules, rather than creating something new and compelling, as often compromise the underlying archetype and offer a tale that, for reasons not always consciously articulated, does not make fundamental sense to readers/viewers.

So what is this underlying system?  A vampire is a manifestation or incarnation (we might almost say personification) of a human being’s psychological “id.”  Quick primer: “Id” is a Freudian term for 1/3 of the unconscious psyche (the other parts being the “ego” and “superego.”)  Put simply, the id is the repository of a human being’s basic will or “life force”—it gets you out of bed in the morning, and keeps you going through the day, because it houses all your desires (things you want) and fears (things you don’t want.)  The superego, acting as a warden, puts limits upon the id’s behavior (we can’t have everything, and we must face many fears,) while the ego keeps a balance: by providing a sense of who we uniquely are, it defines what kinds of limits are imposed, and when, and under what conditions they operate.

If the human “unconscious” were a family, we might say the id is the child (“I want/I hate”,) the superego the father (“No,”) and the ego the mother (“maybe/we’ll see”).  Example: the id wants not only a single cookie, but the entire box, while the superego responds, “That’s not good for you,” but the ego might add a qualifier: “Two are allowable, but only after a proper dinner.”  The id (which we’ll focus on here) is most primitive, selfish, and even animalistic because it has no sense of ethics, morality, or responsibility.  It only acknowledges its own needs.  “Evil” would not be quite accurate to describe the id, any more than children are inherently evil.  An added problem with this comparison is the common association of the id with sexuality (as in “libido”), which means we better clarify that the id is best thought of as an adolescent child.

Most adults are aware that this primitively lustful, desirous, greedy, insatiable, yet also fearful part of ourselves exists, deep down below our civilized self-identity (ego) and our moral sense or conscience (supergo).  But because psychology is often seen as an arcane and highbrow science, it makes sense that these three forces would manifest themselves in the pop culture, as a matrix of actual characters.  Mr. Hyde, the werewolf, the evil twin or doppelganger, the Hulk, Jason and his copies: all these could be said to be walking ids, split apart from the rest of their psyches, and taking a separate physical form.  But none more so than the average Vamp.  The plot device of werewolf-types turning into themselves from human beings, versus vampires being enemies of people full-time, is not a worthwhile distinction in the archetypal context of seeing the root nature of figures, events, and rituals.  And the recent plot cliché of pitting vampires against werewolves makes little sense except for the political mileage–which species has more power?—and, it makes good movie-action. However philosophically different werewolves and vampires may be (is the “evil” inside us, or outside?,) they are not psychologically or functionally different.

In short, there’s a vampire in every single one of us, locked in the crypt of our unconscious by day, and rising from temporary death, running rampant, sowing chaos, by night (luckily, mostly in dreams—unless you happen to be in a vampire story).

Now, to test this theory, recur to the rules we discussed last time:

2) and 5) A mirror (or even a full, illuminated look) would reveal the ugly part of ourselves we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist: all the so-called “weaknesses” and appetites that our physical forms make us prey to.  So vamps can’t see themselves or their shadows, and must remain hidden much of the time, skulking on the periphery of our public personas.

3) and 6) As much as we’d prefer it, this part of ourselves cannot be destroyed or annihilated completely—its energy only redirected.  A person on a crash diet, for example, may subdue the appetite for food, but will generally have to substitute some form of reward in recompense to the starved self, before the nearly inevitable backslide.  In order to break certain forms of addiction, others (supposedly less toxic) are commonly substituted.  Thus, vampires can change forms to evade harm, or relentlessly pursue us.  The stake to the heart or beheading (which reduces the average Nosferatu to dust,) is a fantasy of reduction back to basic elements of which mythology tells us we are all made, but notice there are always more to replace the defeated foe.  Thus, if generic and faceless, vamps never really “die.”  And if individuals, like Dracula, they never die for long.

4) The act of free will here is either the relaxing of the vigilance of the superego, or the allowance on the part of the ego, of the id to have its way.  The id cannot forcibly defeat the other powers, but it can be overindulged (“allowed to enter”).  Once it has a toehold, the myth tells us, it can disease the moral sense and erode the identity (which must be constantly guarded against infiltration).  Actions that may seem trivial at first can have unforeseen and significant consequences that cannot be undone.  So never invite a vampire in to your sanctum.

7) Since Christianity (call it morality-based, or patriarchal and prohibition-driven, from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount, just as you prefer) is really a system that organizes into conscious form the dictates of the superego, it makes sense that it would be the arch-nemesis of the id (Jesus vs. Satan, generosity versus selfishness).  Guilt and repentance for sin is the absolute antithesis of the grasping of the id.

1) Sexual desire is, of course, the easiest way to conceive of the power of the id.  I saved it for last because of this summative convenience.  Everyone over the age of ten knows how much influence sex can exert over the human will, often overriding all our scruples and common sense.  A vampire is so voracious in its appetites that it will literally suck the blood (life-force) from its victim, killing it.  It has no notion of when to stop.

Given all this, we might say that a vampire is a psychological projection of everything human beings despise about themselves—a beast in anthropomorphic form, recognizable as human, yet indulging in the forbidden, violating taboos against incest, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and more common laws against treachery, revenge, and murder.  Paradoxically, this also explains the attraction the idea of vampirism holds for many people, since by definition our dark “kindred” are free to embrace behaviors we normal folks are daily forced to repress.

Are vampires real?  You bet—as real and close as anyone’s own dark half (or third).  Take away the other parts of the tripartite psyche, and you’re left with a person who does whatever he wants, kills those in his way, or steals their energy for himself, and fears nothing but loss of total freedom.  So everyone acts as his own slayer, to greater or lesser extent.  And yet, what Jung called our “shadow” selves can never really be slain.  Only kept at bay, while the sun shines, and if we survive until summer, the days grow longer and the nights shorter.

In the final part of this article, we’ll apply this theory to some of the popular reconfigurings of the vampire mythology, to explore why certain refinements make archetypal sense, others not.

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Clotho’s Loom Paperback now at Barnes and Noble, and through local Booksellers

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In addition to Amazon, Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean has joined the millions of titles available from the B&N website (BONUS: as of today, at a 9% discount).  This means a couple of important channels of availability have opened up.  As it’s now listed in the Ingram catalog, the novel will begin appearing on many other online sites, for sale, soon to be optional in ebook form, too (end of January 2012).  ALSO, you can now walk into a brick-and-mortar B&N store, or about ANY local bookstore, and order the paperback through them. 

Search for ISBN 9781479271528 (this may work better than the computer-un-friendly name of “Stjean”

LINK: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/clothos-loom-shawn-stjean/1114065232?ean=9781479271528&itm=1&usri=9781479271528

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Homeland Fans Will Find Clotho’s Loom Fits the Profile

ImageAs I have come late to Showtime’s action-adventure-spy series about CIA operatives in their chess-match against Middle Eastern terrorist cells, it struck me how many similarities exist between the adventures of Carrie Mathison, Nicholas Brody, and Saul Berenson, and this big novel of mine, Clotho’s Loom, that traces its origins back to before even September 11, 2001.  Not that the series and the book would be mistaken for derivative of each other–the post 9/11 landscape of America is the subject of a great many fictional extrapolations, of course.  However, halfway through season two, I am particularly struck by the moral dilemma of Brody, a former Marine sniper trying to sort out his allegiances amid a network of lies, and struggling ultimately to salvage a life for his family against overwhelming circumstances, some awful personal choices, and random events.  All this occurs against the backdrop of the U.S. War on Terror.  William Wyrd certainly could be considered the literary cousin, if not father, of Brody, to say nothing of other countless parallels.

So if reading is part of your agenda, but you’ve moved past all the Bond and Bourne stuff already, and are now keeping material like Homeland in your sights, you won’t be far off the mark with Shawn StJean’s novel.

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Book Review of Clotho’s Loom and Shawn StJean Interviewed by Fellow Novelist Alana Woods

Check out this book review, accompanied by an interview, by Suspense/Thriller Writer Alana Woods. She’s responsible for Automaton (2001) and Imbroglio (2012), as well as a short-story collection (Tapestries) and a book on writing fiction well–so don’t expect her to take it easy on me!  This is probably the most informative–and interactive– format we’ve seen yet.  CL is a nearly epic book, requiring a heavy investment of time and attention.  If this exchange doesn’t clarify what you’re getting into, nothing will! 

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Clotho’s Loom in Print Gets Global Distribution

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Glas Daggre Publications has contracted with Lightning Source, a division of the Ingram Content Group, to print and distribute a matte-cover version of Clotho’s Loom in mass-market paperback, by Shawn StJean, in the worldwide market.  This means that, in addition to availability on Amazon.com and Amazon Europe, the new novel of literary fiction will soon be available from barnesandnoble.com and other online booksellers, as well as for-order through ground stores in the US, and in many countries (Germany and Brazil are the most recent additions to LS’s reach).

The book has not been translated, and is currently available only in English.  An audiobook edition, read by the author, is currently in post-production.

Casting Call–Main Characters–Hero or Anti-Hero?

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Will Wyrd before. . .

An anti-hero, in literary parlance, is NOT by definition a villain, but rather a character who occupies the place in a narrative where a hero would traditionally have been, but cannot fill the role properly due to some flaw–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.  Hamlet would be the exemplar, but Oedipus and Travis Bickle fit just as well (or badly.)  Some readers may not like Will Wyrd very much–he was designed to be representative, not popular.  But, to alter Dickens’ famous phrase, all-too-many of us turn out to be the anti-heroes of our own lives.

This entry wraps up our “Casting Call” series for an imaginary film production of Clotho’s Loom.  For those who have been following this blog from the very beginning in May, my choice for male protagonist/lead William Wyrd should not be surprising, as I hinted as much back then.  Most are familiar with Matt Damon from his comedy pairings with Ben Affleck, or more recently as the ultra-competent title character of The Bourne Identity and franchise.  The photo above comes from a contrasting, lesser-known dramatic role in The Good Shepherd, following a man involved in the original transition of the OSS during World War II, to the CIA during the Cold War and afterward.  I find the narrative fascinating as the chronicle of how human beings with good intentions can go so far down the path of morally questionable acts, that they can never find their way back.  Damon does a superb job of degenerating from innocence to laconic despair over several decades, and I felt this showed the range needed for Wyrd: a man who, like many people, ended up in a much different place in life than he ever planned to go.  Lying, killing, and deception come to define him, and even his wife gets shut out.  How, besides the passage of time, does one get into such a fix?  External circumstances, the will of other human beings, poor or ignorant choices of our own, and chance–all play their parts in taking us there.

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. . .and after.