Stone expects 'JFK' to reopen debate over assassination

December 18, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

Los Angeles -- The case of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy will be reopened Friday -- not by a court or congressional investigating committee but by a blockbuster movie.

"JFK," written and directed by the iconoclastic Oscar winner Oliver Stone, blends a number of conspiracy theories and asserts that Kennedy was killed in a "coup d'etat" engineered by the CIA and Defense Department and covered up by the FBI, the Justice Department and the Dallas police -- with the connivance of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson.

It charges that Kennedy was eliminated because he had turned against American involvement in the war in Vietnam and wanted to dismantle the CIA.

"I hope it blows away the Warren Commission report," Mr. Stone said in an interview. "We want to make people upset; make them demand all the files that have been withheld until the year 2029 -- the House Select Committee files, files from the FBI."

The Warren Commission, formed by President Lyndon Johnson and including then-Michigan Representative Gerald Ford and CIA Director Allen Dulles, produced its 26-volume report in 1964. It held that Kennedy was shot by two of three bullets fired within 6.5 seconds from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository by Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the commission characterized as a communist sympathizer who acted alone.

Mr. Stone's version of events has upset some people almost from the moment the film began production last spring. Most of the criticism stems from the director/writer's acceptance of the Kennedy conspiracy case brought against CIA-connected New Orleans business executive Clay Shaw by controversial

prosecutor James Garrison, whom the movie depicts as a hero.

The Washington Post's George Lardner, who covered the assassination investigation, last May wrote a scathing denunciation of the film project, calling Mr. Garrison's probe "zany" and a "fraud" and said Mr. Stone was "chasing fiction."

Mr. Stone admits he is mixing some fiction with fact in his film, but only to create a dramatic vehicle for making his argument. He said he used not only Mr. Garrison's 1988 book, "On the Trail of the Assassins," and trial transcripts but the Jim Marrs conspiracy book "Cross fire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy," plus other research conducted in years after the Shaw trial.

"I wanted the movie to incorporate all the research that went on," he said. "My character in the movie, Jim Garrison, is really a vehicle."

Mr. Stone, who has visited the editorial boards of five major newspapers to plead the case for his movie, said he was stunned by all the adverse reaction to the project before the film was even finished.

"I feel an artist has as much right and duty to interpret history as anyone," he said. "One could agree that maybe history is too dangerous to be left to the newsmen in this case."

Mr. Stone, who portrayed the darker sides of the Vietnam War with his 1986 film "Platoon" and Ronald Reagan-era avarice with his 1987 "Wall Street," has enlisted a major cast of Oscar winners and big box office stars. Kevin Costner plays Mr. Garrison as a courageous loner opposing an evil establishment in the mode of the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Mr. Garrison, now a Louisiana appeals court judge, assembled what he asserted was evidence of a government-implicated assassination conspiracy led by Mr. Shaw, whom he unsuccessfully prosecuted in 1969 in the only trial of any suspect in the assassination case.

A House Select Committee on Assassinations, formed in 1976, concluded that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" and that two or more gunmen likely were involved. It was also critical of the FBI's, CIA's and Justice Department's handling of the case.

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