[1989] Born on the Fourth of July

born_on_the_4th_of_julyFearful and fearless are not opposites but complements. One cannot become fearless without first acknowledging that fear exists and that fear persists within the unknown. This is true for all humans, and probably most animals, and is the reason we learn and why the calmest among us continue to learn. But the fear never goes away. Knowledge helps us internalize it and experience help us externalize it. Ron Kovic, the man, shares his experience (with Oliver Stone’s help) in Born on the Fourth of July and crafts a powerful anti-war story that Ron Kovic, the character, shows us. We are supposed to relate to him. Kovic experienced these feelings in reverse. For so many, fear is the catalyst for progress.

Born on the Fourth of July is about gradual, perplexing human disillusionment. The wide-eyed boy the audience meets in the film’s first act is brash and brave, without any real reason for doing so, except for a blind faith in Country and in Institution. Halfway through, when Kovic begins to see things through the lens of war, where Country is a construct and Institution does not play proxy for stability. Still, Kovic plays the part well. Perhaps he still believes that Vietnam was his destiny or that he was right to play his part. Toward the film’s end, Kovic devolves into a version of himself and no longer has an interest in pretending to love Country or his role in it; it happens over a few years for Kovic and just a few hours for Stone’s audience.  Perhaps Kovic was afraid to admit defeat. More likely he was afraid to admit that he was wrong.  Continue reading “[1989] Born on the Fourth of July”

[1978] Midnight Express

With the sound switched off cinema becomes a visceral and visual experience. Without audio clues to connect readers to narrative, a film becomes unhinged; and yet without visuals, an aural experience treats a reader to an era bygone when radio transmissions told history and the wondrous human brain filled in the appropriate imagery. It was a familial experience but a deeply personal one as well: only the individual reader can ever know the deep hues of dusk or staccato contours of landscape. It will vary from person to person but the amorphous nature of memory renders sharing this experience subjective, wrong, and boring. Knowingly watching a movie with the sound off is bizarre in a different way. This method allows for shared experiences; families huddled around a coffee table talking over the television as if it were furniture; waiting rooms with broken speakers; a neighbor’s airplane seat. If the reader has seen the film before, her memory will fill in gaps with enough internal dialogue to render the experience manageable or pleasant, even. It can be a new head for an old hat.

Midnight Express offers an experience situated somewhere in the middle. The visual is full and common to the reader, but the language is intermittent: Midnight Express is written in English but set in Turkish for all intents and purposes. A reader will learn facts and frames of mind from the language spoken among native English speakers (assuming that the reader’s native or learned tongue is English!), but the sparseness among the Turkish manifests in uncanny glares and pure contempt. Later, the team responsible for this movie would apologize for how Midnight Express portrayed native Turkish people – which is telling in embedded globalization that film would have an impact on international relations. This fact surrounds its lore, but the key point, and the middle-driver is that the production team deliberately omitted the Turkish subtitles, and with them the tacit understanding that language is merely a driver for understanding and not the sole purpose of language and meaning ipso facto. Continue reading “[1978] Midnight Express”

[1991] JFK III

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. Here’s Part III and the conclusion. Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here.


ZS: He pulls it off!

SS: I totally believe that. He’s one of these legendary actors.

So, that’s a really good transition, actually, into how I want to wrap this up. I try to finish my reviews with a discussion of the other films that were nominated for Best Picture. I know we may not have seen all of them – so I do a lot of guesswork at this point in the blog, a “what I’ve heard about the movie,” before having actually seen it or I’ll look up a small summary. 1991 is another(!) compelling year in Academy Award history being that it’s the last time a film took home all five major categories – Best Picture, Best Director —

ZS: Was this Dances With Wolves? 

SS: Actually, this was Silence Of The Lambs. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and then also Best Adapted Screenplay.

ZS: WOAH! Silence Of The Lambs won all of those?

SS: It won a lot of Academy Awards – those five. And all five were the “major” ones, kind of dwarfing the other films that were nominated that year – including JFK, which received eight or so nominations (and I don’t know if it won any, maybe two or three) but they were smaller categories, upon which most people wouldn’t necessarily recommend a film, “Oh did you see JFK? It won Best Art Direction,” which is nice for people involved, though not terrible compelling. [I don’t know if that’s actually true because sometimes a movie can be visually stunning and worth a look – ed.] The other movies nominated that year: Prince Of Tides, starring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte [Woah, 1991 – ed.], that’s one of those psychological, personal narratives that I’m not necessarily drawn to, but I’m sure the acting was good. Beauty And The Beast was nominated for Best Picture [And should have won, in my humble opinion….or maybe not -ed.], which is funny. That may have been the first time an animated film had been nominated for Best Picture and I guess that shows the strength of Disney, back then. We can also talk about Bugsy.

ZS: What’s that?

SS: Bugsy, Bugsy Siegel, the famous gangster. Just the fifth of five movies nominated that year. Warren Beatty, Annette Benning – you know that classic pairing. I don’t want to say it was a weak year, but there have definitely been stronger years for Best Picture. You’ve seen Silence Of The Lambs I’m assuming. Continue reading “[1991] JFK III”

[1991] JFK II

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. Here’s Part II. Part I can be found here.

SS: Right, right. So the acting in this movie is superb. The cast of characters…if you recommend this movie to someone or you speak to anybody about JFK, you could read down a list of actors who have either won awards or have been lauded as landmarks within film. Let’s take a look: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, who play a very off-kilter…

ZS: Yeah, and I didn’t even realize that was Gary Oldman…

SS: He’s a total chameleon.

ZS: Right, but you never actually hear him speak; he’s just black-and-white footage and pops up.

SS: I mean, Kevin Costner had just come off a huge performance in Dances With Wolves a year before [1990’s Best Picture winner], so it gave the audience a name recognition and a draw to see the movie. It won 7 Oscars and now he’s in a movie crafted by Oliver Stone, who we [the audience] knows as a very overtly dramatic and very specific and very dynamic director. And you look down the card and you see other names, I mean Kevin Bacon has a very small role, but it’s a pivotal role. We as an audience, now 25 years later, have a connection to these actors who were just gaining fame at the time or maybe some were in the middle of their careers and now the movie has held up a. because the subject matter is compelling and b. because the acting is stunning. I thought it was a very compelling three hours…

ZS: Oh yeah, that’s another thing that Roger Ebert writes about, that it’s just an insanely fast-moving and entertaining movie because the longer it goes on, the more entranced you are by this web of characters and evidence and it does a very strong job or channeling his [Garrison’s …or Stone’s?] obsession and makes you feel it, too. Any good mystery film is like that.

SS: It’s a tough thing to pull off – the theatrical cut is three hours and eight minutes and Director’s Cut, on top of that (and at this point, if you’re going to commit 188 minutes, you may as well commit the extra half an hour), is around 208 minutes.

ZS: I think the Director’s Cut was the version I watched, but it did not seem that long. It did not feel like it was three hours.

SS: What do you think about the shift in tone as the first part of the movie where we go through and we meet this character, we meet Jim Garrison and it goes through his investigation and these theories that keep popping up and then we actually see the courtroom drama. It turns into a courtroom drama, which is a completely different style of film. It doesn’t seem out-of-place and yes, we want to see this. What did you think about including this? It could have faded out 45 minutes earlier and ended with a parting shot that Clay Shaw trial was this and this and this and read the, “where are they now,” bit. And it does this…after the fact.  Continue reading “[1991] JFK II”

[1991] JFK I

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. 

Sam Sklar: What’s going on man!

Zach Schonfeld: Not much…

SS: I’m glad we’re finally able to do this…this is a cool thing…thanks for taking the time.

ZS: Yeah, of course.

SS: So I guess the first thing I wanted to start with was the article you sent me about The Thin Blue Line and its relation to I guess the cinema verité and what constitutes true documentary. It had an interesting take on Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK, which is pseudo-fictional. The movie itself is obviously based on JFK, the person…

ZS: Um, yeah. Well Oliver Stone described it as a counter-myth to the myth of the Warren Report, which I find really interesting because he’s sort of acknowledging that his film doesn’t tell any sort of objective truth because there can be no objective truth because probably the only people who know what happened to JFK are dead. So in that sense he is constructing Jim Garrison’s version of the truth – which in many ways i diametrically opposed to what the Warren Report came out with. And so, the film has been attacked because it validates some of the most extreme and radical conspiracy theories associated with the Kennedy assassination but I think that was Oliver Stone’s goal, really.

SS: I think so, too. I think that he would have…there would have been no success in his eyes had he tried to construct a straight biography from that point on November 22nd, 1963 to the months and years that followed. There is no biography there to tell that hasn’t already been told. His goal in making this movie was to draw attention, maybe turn some heads and kind of get his message across, which may or may not be truthful, so I think that — what was the author’s name of that piece?

ZS: Linda Williams

SS: Linda Williams…there was a little, well the writing was a little dense.

ZS: Oh yeah, it was very dense.

SS: She attempted a lot of six-syllable words when she could have used simpler ones, but I understood her point and it’s a theme that has kept coming up in all the reading and all the movies that I’ve watched and the critiques that I’ve read, this concept of, “Is there a bigger picture?” and within the bigger picture, how can the details be interpreted. So within this world that Stone created, at what point are we to believe, “what is true? Is there such a thing as objective truth and did Stone even attempt to search for it or was his goal, like you said, the counter-myth…was that the point. Does it matter, then the criticism he’s received?

ZS: I don’t really think that truth is obtainable and I don’t know if he [Stone] viewed it as, “Oh, I’m going get at the total truth of the assassination. I think his goal was to show things from the point of view of Jim Garrison and Roger Ebert also wrote some interesting things about the movie. Roger Ebert liked it a lot and he wrote that Oliver Stone does not subscribe to all of Jim Garrison’s crack-pot theories but, he writes, he [Stone] uses Garrison as a symbolic center of the film because Garrison, in all the United States, in the years since 1963, is the only man who has attempted to bring anyone into court in connection with the fishiest political murder of our time. I think that’s something that’s easy to forget; the main character of the movie is not JFK, it’s Jim Garrison. That’s something that’s very, very clear as you’re watching it. We never actually see JFK speak, really, we never view him as a living, breathing character. Jim Garrison is our anchor into the entire plot. He is the only person ever to have prosecuted someone in connection with JFK’s murder. And for that reason, he’s the most important character in the movie.

SS: So, I guess the question is, I would want to sum up from all this is, “why are people deriding this movie?” Is it because they were expecting a biography of JFK and will do anything to keep that truth in their mind or are they diametrically opposed to his methodology or blinding dislike it regardless of the message he [Stone] was trying to send. Where is this derision coming from? Continue reading “[1991] JFK I”