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JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass
Directed by Oliver Stone
Classification PG; 118 minutes
Available digitally on-demand starting March 8
Growing up, I’m not sure there was another young adult in all of Canada more obsessed with Oliver Stone’s JFK than me. I can’t recall exactly how I was introduced to the 1991 film – I had the habit of going to my local Blockbuster and grabbing any release whose length required two VHS tapes – but very quickly I fell down Stone’s rabbit hole. So much so that I coerced my father to drive me to a JFK conspiracy theorist talk at the local Chapters, and even shell out for two tickets to hear Stone himself give a guest lecture at the University of Toronto during (I believe?) his publicity tour for 1995′s Nixon.
Today, my worn 670-page copy of Stone’s JFK: The Documented Screenplay still sits on my shelf, but I’ve long stopped researching all things magic bullet and grassy knoll. Plus, Stone’s own contemporary output – the incomprehensible thriller Savages, a tepid Edward Snowden drama, a nauseatingly fawning Vladimir Putin interview series – has further soured my preteen paranoia. (I was also once afraid that Stone would punch me in the face during an interview, but that turned out to be an entirely misplaced fear.)
But look, this is all to say that I am both the best and worst audience for the new documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, Stone’s latest attempt to solve the most notorious murder in U.S. history. The biggest twist this time around? The sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes frustrating film proves that Stone, ever the professional provocateur, still has what it takes to rile an audience. Or at least make your head spin round so many times that you’ll be backward thankful for the migraine.
Taking the approach of Errol Morris on Jolt Cola, Stone serves as narrator and interrogator in Through the Looking Glass, examining the 1963 assassination with a simmering outrage. (Okay, Stone actually shares narrating duties with JFK co-star Donald Sutherland and ... Whoopi Goldberg? Okay!)
All the familiar JFK topics are here: the muddy motives of the Warren Commission, the sketchy backyard photo of a rifle-toting Lee Harvey Oswald, the Zapruder film. But they’re presented with slightly less maniacal editing than Stone’s feature film. The first half of the doc dissects the scene of the crime in a pseudo-forensic fashion (have a drink for every time the words “magic bullet” are uttered and you’ll be blotto half an hour in), while the second half delves into the historical context of the Camelot era, including the alleged political motives of those international power-brokers who may have wanted Kennedy dead.
There are no revelatory bombshells here, exactly, but Stone uncovers just enough unsettling evidence (much discovered from declassified files) and spins them with just enough wham-pow filmmaking techniques to provoke. Will previously skeptical viewers walk away convinced that, to borrow Stone’s words, conspiracy theories are now “conspiracy facts”? Absolutely not. And the director offers his enemies plenty of ammunition to further wound his reputation, too, including his assembly of a handful of amateur-ish, wide-eyed talking heads. But there is more intellectual rigour and hard-earned curiosity here than a thousand episodes of, say, The Joe Rogan Experience (though if you want to experience both worlds, Stone sat down with Rogan just last month).
Still, this doc is, just like JFK, ultimately an unfinished document. The same day that Through the Looking Glass becomes available this month, Stone will release his four-part series JFK: Destiny Betrayed, which offers a “deep dive” (or deeper dive?) into the assassination. My adolescent self would be thrilled. Now? Well, I guess I’ll catch up to it eventually.
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