The above title is a paraphrase of film maker Robert Stone's own explanation about what compelled him to make this seductive and oddly unnerving documentary. He says it at the end of his 16 minute interview which is part of the bonus material on the newly released DVD of 'Oswald's Ghost' The film itself is not so much about who did or did not kill JFK, although Stone comes out, on the wings of some beautifully cadenced articulation from Norman Mailer, with a plausibly reasoned narrative that shows Oswald was far more intelligent, educated, motivated and therefore capable of soley killing one of the most popular presidents of the century than most of us would ever care or dare to suspect. But whether or not this may sway your JFK conspiratorial or anti conspiratorial belief system, his real aim is to look at the nature and actual necessity of the conspiracy theory itself, something which all the anti-establishment and pro establishment theorists never seem to have done
JFK's assasination was a national trauma rivaled only by 911, but what made it most appaling was millions of people like myself, then in high school, had to witness the subsequent assasination of prime suspect Lee Harvey Oswald by some Dallas saloon operator on national live tv. The impact of those four days is immeasurable, but Stone should be applauded for exploring what this meant to a decade, a generation and ultimately an entire society to the present day.
His film is not able, nor motivated, to cover all the narratives, let alone all the angles of the most common narratives that spun out of those days on our collective political subconscious, but his sharp film making and archive footage research skills project us into a realm where we get an uneasy sense of the anger, anxiety and paranoia that the assasination and its twisted aftermath took us through - virtually to the edge of a kind of national psychosis.
I first saw the film in a theatre and whether you have seen it there or on The American Experience, there is still something to be gained from watching the DVD with its bonus material. One segment, titled "A Visit to Dealey Plaza" has a feeling that we are watching a 19th century side (I am tempted to say freak) show, where a fast talkin' barker spins a whole cloth conspiracy rant that lassoes Nixon, LBJ, J Edgar Hoover, Howard Hunt, Lamar Hunt and Woody Harrelson's dad altogether in a book of pictures and headlines that we can neither see nor read. He wraps it up as few can do outside of Texas with " As they say at Hallmark: We Care Enough to Send the Very Best, and We Sure Didn't Hire any Amateurs to Kill our President". Hysterical stuff, except that many people, myself included, have tended to believe all or most of it at some point or another, and can still be easily swayed, even after watching Oswald's Ghost several times.
The fingering of LBJ as conspirator (who sealed off the investigation being done on him soon as he was sworn in) is interesting because in Stone's film, former White HOuse reporter Robert Dallek describes LBJ as one establishment official who didn't swallow the Warren Commission's finding, and became sufficiently paranoid enough of theories involving Castro and the Soviets that he became delusionally obsessed with showing his prowess in Vietnam. There's one not so oft cited glimpse at how the events and our need to make sense out of things that don't add up effect not only our thinking, but our history. Stone makes an even stronger observation at the end of his interivew when he talks about how the belief by 70% of our population that Oswald did not act alone has impacted how we think even of today's historic presidential election. So many people younger people that he has talked with in the lasst year or two who are not old enough to remember 1963 believe all the parties are the same, that they are all corrupt, that no one tells the truth, and therefore why participate, why vote? This sort of 21st century malaise is not something that Robert Stone was able to explore deeply in Oswald's Ghost, but perhaps more than anything, it justifies a title whose legacy only seems to grow more unsettling through time.