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PBS HOME VIDEO

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Robert Stone
Cast:
Dan Rather, Norman Mailer, Gary Hart, Mark Lane, Edward Jay Epstein
Writing Credits:
Robert Stone

Synopsis:
Novelist-turned-director Robert Stone examines John F. Kennedy's assassination and its aftermath in this documentary. Featuring interviews with Dan Rather, Norman Mailer, and many others, Oswald's Ghost goes beyond the death of a president and observes how this murder affected the country's mindset and willingness to accept conspiracy theories.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 1/15/2008

Bonus:
• “A Visit to Dealey Plaza” Featurette
• “The Zapruder Film and Beyond” Featurette
• “Interview with Robert Stone” Featurette


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RELATED REVIEWS


Oswald's Ghost (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 2, 2008)

More than four decades after the fact, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy remains the subject of intense scrutiny. For another look at the topic, we head to a new documentary called Oswald’s Ghost.

In this program, we get the standard mix of archival elements and interviews. Ghost features remarks from investigator Josiah Thompson, historians Priscilla Johnson McMillan and Robert Dallek, novelist Norman Mailer, reporters Dan Rather and Hugh Aynesworth, attorney Mark Lane, journalist Edward Jay Epstein, student activists Tom Hayden and Todd Gitlin, and US Senator Gary Hart. (Note that the descriptors used for the interview subjects often connote their status in 1963. The documentary fails to do this consistently, though, which seems odd.)

Ghost looks at the events of November 22, 1963, as well as topics related to the era and the setting. The program offers thoughts about Kennedy and the investigation into the assassination. We hear about various conspiracy theories, additional thoughts on the various issues, and the aftermath of all of this.

When we get a new look at an event as oft-examined as the Kennedy assassination, one question becomes paramount: does it add anything to the discussion? In the case of Ghost, I believe the answer is “no”. I think the show entertains, but given the subject matter, it’s difficult for a program of this sort not to create interest.

Unfortunately, Ghost doesn’t give us anything beyond basic entertainment to shed light on the subject or create a real reason to exist. Part of the problem comes from the show’s confused focus. It’s never clear what goals Ghost attempts to achieve. One minute it comes across as an introspective look into Oswald’s character, while the next makes it out to be view of conspiracy theories, and another angle digs into the assassination’s impact on American society.

The “jack of all trades” approach doesn’t work. Perhaps a program with a longer running time could succeed in that way, but since Ghost lasts a mere 82 minutes, it lacks the length to allow greater depth. It zips through the different subjects with alacrity and fails to adequately explore any of them.

I think another problem comes from the way that Ghost appears to give all the various viewpoints equal credence. Actually, that’s not totally true, as the program actively tries to debunk Jim Garrison’s crackpot theories. I’m not sure why Garrison’s crusade receives so much attention, though I suppose the show’s producers may have felt the need to reduce the enduring stink from Oliver Stone’s JFK. Oddly, though, we get a subsequent look at that flick’s production and are left with the impression that it’s supposed to offer a “definitive” take on the conspiracy theories.

So one minute Ghost takes away from JFK and the next it gives back to the film. That lack of editorial consistency creates distractions here. Perhaps some will interpret this in a positive way as objectivity, and that’s fine to a degree. I won’t say that I want Ghost to latch onto one theory and beat us over the head with it to the exclusion of all else, especially given the murkiness of this subject.

Nonetheless, the way that Ghost tries to have its cake and eat it too seems problematic to me. At least some of the archival materials stand out from the rest. Though much of the footage will look familiar to even casual assassination buffs, we find some more intriguing elements such as recordings of phone calls between LBJ and others. Quite a lot of valuable bits show up here, and they’re the best part of the program.

Otherwise, I can’t find a ton to make Oswald’s Ghost special. After all these years, any program that looks at the Kennedy assassination needs to find something to make it special. I don’t think that occurs here. It ends up as entertaining but unexceptional.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Oswald’s Ghost appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. No one expects stellar visuals from a documentary like this, and Ghost came through with solid but unexceptional picture quality.

As always, I have to differentiate between the newly-shot interviews and the archival footage. The latter demonstrated the usual up and down quality. Some pieces looked surprisingly good; for instance, the shots from Kennedy’s funeral procession demonstrated strong clarity. However, most showed their age. They were perfectly acceptable given their roots, but they lacked consistency.

On the other hand, the new interviews were quite good. They showed nice sharpness, with virtually no signs of softness on display. Some minor jagged edges interfered at times, but the shots lacked shimmering or edge enhancement. Source flaws also were absent from the new segments.

Colors remained subdued for these elements. “Talking head” shots don’t lend themselves to bright, bold hues, so the emphasis on laid-back tones didn’t surprise me. The segments seemed accurate, at least. Blacks were also acceptably dense, and shadows were clear. This was a more than satisfactory presentation for this sort of production.

Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Oswald’s Ghost. It should surprise no one that dialogue and music dominated the mix. Effects were minor at best and added almost nothing to the package. Music showed pretty good stereo spread across the front, though, and the interview comments remained appropriately centered.

Surround usage was very modest; in fact, that side of things seemed almost unnoticeable. The track stayed heavily focused on the front channels. I suppose that the surrounds contributed mild reinforcement of the music, but that was about it. I never became aware of their involvement in the mix.

Audio quality was satisfying. Speech seemed natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music also appeared lively and full. Indeed, low-end response was particularly good, as some bass guitar showed deep tones. The track lacked the scope for anything above a “B”, but it worked well.

A few featurettes fill out this package. A Visit to Dealey Plaza goes for nine minutes, 34 seconds. For its first seven minutes, it offers a relentless parade of conspiracy “evidence” from BA Russell, Sr. He has to be seen as the poster child for the crackpot wing of the conspiracy theorists. He throws out almost 10 minutes of rambling, incoherent “facts” related to the conspiracy. So what if most of them are crazy and/or discredited? I imagine many conspiracy theorists must hate guys like Russell since those folks make the rest look like total nutbags.

The final two and a half minutes of “Visit” show “leading JFK assassination researcher” Robert Groden as he provides a quick synopsis of the events. I’m not sure who decided that he’s a “leading researcher”, for while he comes across as much more believable – and sane – than Russell, he shovels some of the same conspiracy manure we’ve heard for all these years. He also indicates that he feels anyone who thinks Oswald did it alone must mentally incompetent. Nice touch!

The Zapruder Film and Beyond lasts 22 minutes, 12 seconds and includes notes from investigator Josiah Thompson, attorney Mark Lane, journalist Edward Jay Epstein, reporters Hugh Aynesworth and Dan Rather, House Select Committee on Assassinations chairman Congressman Louis Stokes, and novelist Norman Mailer. The program looks at the history and nature of the Zapruder film as well as its impact on investigations. Much of this covers the usual debate about what the footage “proves”; some claim it conclusively shows shots from the front, while others feel the opposite. “Beyond” also offers more general speculation about the assassination that doesn’t specifically focus on the Zapruder film.

The comments from Stokes act as the most interesting aspects of the featurette. Many have used the report from the House Select Committee to support the notion of conspiracy, but Stokes relates that some of the evidence involved was questionable. I’d never heard from any of the Congressmen involved in that report, so these elements prove fascinating. “Beyond” ends up as an intriguing extension of aspects of the longer documentary.

Finally, Interview with Robert Stone fills 15 minutes, 47 seconds and features remarks from the documentary’s director. He discusses the program’s compilation and research, thoughts about some aspects of the show, its participants and its focus, and his own thoughts on conspiracies and other sides of the story. Stone provides a nice encapsulation of his involvement in the project, and he expands on its well.

Oswald’s Ghost dabbles in a lot of aspects of the Kennedy assassination, but it fails to unite them in a satisfying way. Indeed, the program’s focus never becomes clear and it doesn’t add anything new to the debate. The DVD provides satisfying picture and audio as well as a few decent extras. Assassination buffs might want to rent this one, but I can’t say it did a lot for me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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