Thanks to Oliver Stone's praised and condemned "JFK," conspiracy theories are in favor again.
The assassination of President Kennedy is a tragedy wrapped in mystery and contradiction, and the official version of what happened suffers from many flaws. Consequently, self-appointed assassination experts have never been far from the headlines. But now that highly placed public figures, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., are calling for a reopening of the files, the hope of new discoveries is especially keen.
Home video is an ideal outlet for the Kennedy theorists. Rather than depending on the reader to wade through hundreds of pages of closely reasoned text, they can use the visual medium to lay out their supposed evidence quickly and dramatically. One of the most interesting examples is 3-G Home Video's "Who Didn't Kill JFK" (60 minutes, $9.95).
Awkward title aside, the tape is a fascinating dissection of one single aspect of the overriding question: Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? It concerns the picture of Oswald that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in February 1964. The picture, supposedly taken in his back yard on the day before the assassination, shows Oswald brandishing a rifle and a rolled-up newspaper.
Life paid Oswald's widow, Marina, $5,000 to use the picture and presented it as proof that Oswald must have been the gunman. Oswald, who was shown the picture while in custody, maintained that the photo was a fake. According to the Warren Commission report, he told investigators someone had put his head on someone else's body.
This tape says Oswald was right.
The chief expert seen here is Jack White of Fort Worth, Texas, who testified before the House Select Committee in 1979 and said the photo and a similar one purportedly taken seconds later on the same day were faked. White, who in 1963 was the art director of Fort Worth's largest ad agency and adept at photo processing, points out the many small discrepancies that betray retouching. In the Life photo, for example, Oswald is standing impossibly off-balance, and his left arm seems too short.
In transparent overlays created from the two photos, White shows that the backgrounds match exactly, something that would have been impossible if Marina had handled the small camera in the casual way that she later described.
Most disturbing of all, a blowup of Oswald's head seems to reveal a slight horizontal line just above the chin. The chin clearly does not look like Oswald's, and the line could indicate the place where his face was razored in. The Warren Commission called the line "water spots," says the tape.
Just as peculiar as the photos is their origin. According to the program, they turned up in a house in Irving, Texas, where the Oswalds had been staying with a friend, but earlier police searches there had not uncovered them. Also never found were the dark trousers and shirt seen in the pictures, or the watch on the subject's wrist.
There are enough oddities and discrepancies here to make your head swim. One amazing allegation made by the producer, Jim Marrs, concerns a Dallas couple who helped process FBI and Secret Service film on the evening of the assassination. Mr. Marrs says that the couple, now both deceased, told him that they had seen the Oswald backyard photos that very night in the hands of the FBI.
It must be said that "Who Didn't Kill JFK" is not a slick production. Cast in a typical TV "evening news" format, it presents an anchorman at a desk and a reporter supposedly in the field at various locations, including two Oswald residences. But the reporter, in the manner of a TV weatherman, is clearly positioned in front of a "blue screen" so he can be superimposed on the outdoors shots. And when the reporter interviews Mr. White or Mr. Marrs, all the parties speak directly to the camera in wooden, rehearsed tones.
The tape even ends with a pitch for Mr. Marrs' book on Kennedy, "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy" (Carroll & Graf), on which "JFK" was partly based.
Many of these points concerning the photos have been raised before, but seeing them discussed one by one on a videotape is powerfully convincing. If you still hold to the orthodox account of that fateful day, be prepared to be shaken.