In 1991, Oliver Stone re-opened America’s deepest wound with JFK, a rousing, star-studded, 189-minute account of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the CIA’s orchestration of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film––a brilliant blend of historical truth and creative fiction that suggestively fills gaping holes plaguing the event––caused a pop-culture avalanche that landed Stone in front of Congress, where, on behalf of the public, he demanded all classified JFK documents be unsealed. The resulting President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act promised everything would be declassified by 2017.
It took longer than 25 years, but today the overwhelming majority of documents have been unsealed (the final swath of some 15,000 more are set to release on October 26, 2021, barring further delay). Naturally, there is a lot to investigate, and Stone is back on the scene. Thirty years after JFK, he returns with JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, a sweeping documentary chockablock with granular research on newly unsealed documents that means to build out a more legitimate account of the murder and further cement the obvious into the collective American conscious: we’ve been deceived—to put it lightly.
JFK Revisited plows through new statistics and evidence––most of which you haven’t seen, despite being available––at a rabid rate, channeling the breakneck speed of JFK, perhaps the fastest 3-hour movie in film history. Both play like thrillers. Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Sutherland narrate us through the web of inspection, where we learn about the utter fraud of the Warren Report, the burying of witnesses, the counterfeit paper trail of the magic bullet, autopsy fuckery, evidence of an identical failed assassination attempt in Chicago three weeks prior, the unpublished findings of the House Selection Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) of 1976, and Kennedy’s volatile relationship with intelligence agencies. This doesn’t even scratch the surface.
The information is fascinating, if not shocking, and Stone’s contagious quest for the truth is galvanizing. Before JFK Revisited premiered to a hungry Cannes audience, Stone took the stage to rapturous applause. He spoke briefly of the mass disenchantment that’s set in over the years but focused primarily on an essential premise: we have two governments––intelligence agencies and the White House––and, historically, they don’t like each other. Regardless of what one thinks, this concept is essential to Stone’s approach. We sat down with him on the French Riviera to talk about it.
The Film Stage: Why is the story of JFK’s assassination still important in 2021?
Oliver Stone: Professional historians have missed this story. Young ones like you are catching up. The problem is that the narrative was set by the government and Johnson continued what Kennedy did. It just doesn’t hold up at all. And we know more than ever from declassification. And from Robert S. McNamara’s book In Retrospect (1995), which came out after the film. And that was very important. John Newman was involved, a great historian. And McNamara said, “Without a doubt, Kennedy was withdrawing, even if South Vietnam lost.” That’s a very important issue. And then after that [McGeorge] Bundy, who was a national security advisor and was against Kennedy’s decision, said the same thing in his book. And then on top of that you have the phone call you heard in the film: Johnson telling McNamara, “I thought it was foolish of you to talk about withdrawing.”
In an interview between you and Dan Rather, you said you wanted people to “really see [Vietnam] and believe and remember it, because it is forgotten and it will be forgotten again.” Do you feel like JFK’s assassination as an event is as forgotten as Vietnam?
Hmm. As forgotten as Vietnam? Some people won’t forget. How can we forget when we have wars for no reason? Well, we went to war in Iraq twice and then to Afghanistan and Grenada, for that matter, and then you add all the bombings and all that. Something has been forgotten, because we’re back to a military state, a militant state: militarism! And nationalism. It’s very tragic. I think most people who’d been in Vietnam who have common sense––you know, many of the veterans––would say the same thing. It’s tragic. These kids, too, and their families. And the money. Huge amounts of money spent. Bush was the worst president we’ve ever had, I repeat. I don’t think I’m so crazy for that.
No, I don’t think you are. Would you include the American military-industrial complex in the separate intelligence agency side of the government?
Yes, all the goals are the same. They agree. We have the means, and we have to stock up, and blah blah we have to keep the money flowing to the congressional districts. We have to keep the congressman, the trout, fed, and we have to keep everybody happy. Every state. Interesting, though, I forgot: Kennedy was closing down bases domestically. It was in the film. 30 bases. He was cutting the budgets and cutting down, but he was aborted.
How have your opinions changed on the assassination of JFK and the way it’s aged in pop culture over the past 30 years?
Well, I feel very frustrated, but at the same time I’m happy I did [JFK] because it was an important stake in the Earth for the future. Whatever they said, it’s there. You can’t destroy that film any more than you can destroy this new documentary. I’m sad because there was a more liberal attitude in the ’90s, more open, and a lot of people agreed with the film. By 2013, the media keeps clamping down on dissent. And we see it now in our country through YouTube, Facebook, and all that shit.
In 2013, you were young, but it was disgusting to see the 50th anniversary celebrated by every network and cable station saying the same thing: “Johnson followed Kennedy, it was a sad moment for the country, and we’re all crying,” and there’s no real mention against the orthodoxy. They quoted me. I did an hour-and-a-half interview with [Tom] Brokaw, very thorough. Ugh, Brokaw—what a liar! 30-second clip, 20-second clip… it was a joke. Nobody was allowed to dissent.
Do you think that direction is coming from intelligence agencies?
Of course they’re involved. The CIA always wants to be involved. They know the value of it. They’ve always had assets in the media. They’re not supposed to be domestically concerned, but they got involved. In the ‘50s, it was a badge of honor, you know. Keep that in mind. In the ‘70s it would begin to shift. You know, Frank Church’s committee. When Reagan came back, he brought back the militaristic ideal and it worked. George [H.W.] Bush is famous for saying, “The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula… by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”
You’re on a huge stage making countercultural work. Have you ever been threatened or intimidated?
You see, I think the beauty of it was that we surprised them. If they had seen it coming, they would’ve been much better prepared. But they did get on my case pretty early. While I was shooting in Dallas on day one, they were there. George Lardner––the national security correspondent from the Washington Post, who was, of course, embedded in some way––was there on the set, stole a script somewhere, and made fun of our first draft. We were changing the script all the time. You should see the article; it’s hilarious. It’s called “Dallas in Wonderland,” I think.
Anyways, that warfare continued and by the time the film came out, I think Newsweek’s cover claimed the film was a lie. Every major paper. The New York Times, Time Magazine––well, you know, the critic was very good at Time, but the editorial board was writing separate essays about how fraudulent the movie was. Newsweek, ABC, CBS, everyone. Except for the critics sometimes. There was some independence with the movie critics.
What do you think the media’s job is if they’re doing their job right?
Protect the state. The media is there to protect the government. The only media worth anything in the United States is independent. And there’s very few of them, but there are some very important websites. The Glenn Greenwalds, the Grayzones… crucial. And younger people, too, hopefully, who are willing to say “this sucks.”
What does it look like if they’re doing their jobs ethically? Is the media’s responsibility simply to re-open the question?
Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people in the U.S. have reacted to this film already.
I’ve heard there’s a 4-hour version of JFK Revisited. What’s in the 4-hour version?
Well, it has some very good stuff and I like it. But it’s good at this length (115 minutes) because it’s viewable by a layman, too. You see, Jim DiEugenio is one of the best researchers. He’s third-generation. He’s an auto-didact. He reads every book in different translations. He knows the page number in which he can dump on [Vincent] Bugliosi. He’s done real deconstructions and has a website that’s invaluable. Invaluable. Jim is very perceptive. He remembers everything. But he wrote a 4-hour screenplay that reads like a book, so we really had to make changes.
What do you think is the most significant evidence to come out of the unveiling of documents since 1991?
Some of the declassification points very clearly to the SecDef conference [on Vietnam] in Hawaii in May ’63, when McNamara was there. They had to go faster and they had to pull out units. It was very clear from those declassified files that the withdrawal was in motion.
In declassification terms, all the previous “evidence” has been discredited by the autopsy pictures that had come out—plus the statement from the witnesses on the rear head wound, as we showed in that shot in the film. Pretty powerful stuff.
Oswald on the sixth floor, that’s a big deal. Those three women [witnesses]: why would they be dishonest? These are secretaries, they’re efficient. They run down the stairs right away and no one ever sees Oswald. And the Marion Baker story. They see Marion Baker but they don’t see Oswald. And Baker only spots Oswald on the second-floor lunchroom. The times are all screwed up because the Warren Commission blurred them in order to discredit the three women. The two women, really; the third woman was a supervisor.
The [Martha Jo] Stroud document. She swore an oath, the Assistant DA of Dallas. They should’ve kept the whole investigation in Dallas. As you know, the coroner was brushed aside. The autopsy was a farce. We know more about it now, far more, about how the military controlled the autopsy, the lack of experienced autopsy people.
What else was new… ah, the whole business with [George] Joannides with the CIA. Jesus, they lied to the HSCA, which was the second investigation. They said Joannides was not active, not operational in ’63. It turns out that he was the most important guy! He was the focus point for the Cuban Committee from Miami.
They interrogated a lot of witnesses and they really put pressure on them. Oh! What about the testimony we get from [Dr. Malcolm] Perry?
Right, the physician threatened by [Secret Service agent] Elmer Moore to change his autopsy account?
Elmer Moore, yeah. In the 4-hour version we find out what Moore’s motivation was. Like Kevin Bacon in the movie, he says, “Kennedy was a traitor! He was a communist!” [Bangs table facetiously]
What do you want this film to do? What do you think it can do?
You can’t go against the government. I mean, Jim Garrison had the same problem. It’s out there. It’s a stake in the ground. That’s the best you can do. If you come out and tell the American people, “Look, there was a coup d’état in 1963, and since then it’s been off-limits on military, off-limits on intelligence,” it would destroy the foundation of the concept of democracy. But there’s so much at stake for them. It still matters.
Do you find hope in younger generations?
There’s always hope. You can put up with tyranny as long as you know it’s tyranny, and then eventually it crumbles. It’ll crumble from within because it’s full of lies, I think. I don’t think any tyranny can last for that long. Now, the Americans have pulled the best hypnosis job in history, no question. We have the most experience in psyops. We’re very good at it. Harold Pinter pointed this out in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, remember? They’ve kept this idea up that we’re this benevolent country and that we’re not this raper, usurper Roman Empire deal that we are.
Why do you think Americans don’t want to believe that?
Because they prosper under it. If you’re making money from the system, it’s very hard to question it. When the people get unhappy enough, yes, they will overthrow it, and a lot of that’s been happening recently. That’s not necessarily to say that I’m for revolution, because it’s very chaotic and a lot of good people get hurt. But there’s definitely a fear of that [from the government]. I mean, the reaction to January 6 was insanely over the top. They’re putting everybody on the domestic-terrorism list. I mean, they probably put you on it.