Friday is the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of JFK. If you were alive back then, and old enough to remember this day, it’s one you never forgot from the moment you first heard the news. For me, I was in New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, in a music class, when a member of the school staff came into the classroom and whispered something to our teacher. The teacher then announced to the class that the President had been shot. Most of us were shocked, probably not able to completely comprehend what had happened or what it truly meant. One wise-ass kid yelled out, “Nixon got him,” referring to Kennedy’s Republican opponent in the 1960 Presidential election. A few uncomfortable laughs were quickly silenced when the teacher began chastising the entire class for the actions of a couple of kids who were being so casually flippant, not recognizing the enormity of the moment.
We were sent home soon after and during the next four days the world slowly changed. That Sunday, my father and I, after church, went to visit my grandmother, a weekly ritual. While we were there the TV was on and we witnessed Lee Harvey Oswald being shot live on TV by Jack Ruby. Monday, schools were closed and we watched the entire procession from the Rotunda to Arlington.
As has been said by so many commentators in countless books, documentaries and TV shows about this time in our history, this was the day, the moment when America lost its innocence. It all seemed so impossible that this could happen, but it did.
The Warren Report was released in September 1964 claiming Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the President. Almost immediately afterward, skeptics began to question the Report’s findings. Theories abound, some seemed credible others just plain ludicrous.
Other events followed as the 60’s wore on. Other questions began to be asked. Why were we in Vietnam? Who really killed RFK and Martin Luther King? There were spooks under everyone’s bed or so it seemed.
As the Buffalo Springfield sang in “For What it’s Worth,” “Paranoia runs deep…” and it began to run very deep in American cinema as the events of the 1960’s unfolded. There have always been films with conspiracies as part of the storyline, Fritz Lang’s “Ministry of Fear,” Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” to name a few. However, by the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, a golden age of paranoia, we hit the jackpot. The films listed are in no particular order other than their release date.
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, David Hemmings’ photographer becomes obsessive about what he sees or does not see in a photograph he took of two lovers in a park one afternoon. The film was released during the heyday of London’s Swingin’s 60’s. Today, it still lures you in with its Carnaby Street look; the mod sexy girls, the music (The Yardbirds). But as our anti-hero begins to dig deeper into the photographs he took that day he finds himself caught up in a murder mystery or maybe not.
Based on the life of New York City cop, Frank Serpico, who won’t take gifts or extort money as favors from local criminals. Frank’s honesty makes him a pariah on the force with no cop willing to partner with him. The honest cop can’t be trusted and becomes isolated from his fellow cops especially after agreeing to blow the whistle on the rampant corruption in the police department. Superb performance by Pacino.
The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola’s tale of a paranoid surveillance expert who finds out he may be responsible for the murder of innocent people. Stark, claustrophobic, cerebral, Coppola’s anti-hero Harry Caul is paranoia personified. He lives alone, does not let anyone into his apartment nor does he let anyone get close to him emotionally.
Mix in one investigative reporter, a Presidential candidate who is assassinated and a secretive corporation hiring assassins and you have an intelligent conspiracy theorist paradise. Starring Warren Beatty the film today remains a smart, tense and effective work. Directed by Alan J. Pakula.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Robert Redford is a CIA researcher, his job is to read novels and other publications that make reference to the CIA. He finds himself on the run from his own agency with no one he can trust after coming back to his office one afternoon with lunch and finding all his co-workers dead. His superiors want him to come in from the cold but can they be trusted?
Marathon Man (1976)
Former Nazis, diamonds, a rouge government agent, and a dentist scene that still brings nightmares each night before I have a dental appointment. Based on William Goldman’s best-selling novel, John Schlesinger’s film version is not perfect but it’s a great thrilling ride. After watching this film you never want to hear your dentist say, “Is it safe?”
All the President’s Men (1976)
True life paranoia as Washington Post investigative reporters, Woodard and Bernstein, uncover the sneaky, shadowy administration of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal that led to his resignation. To this day Richard Nixon still goes down as the most paranoid of our Presidents.
Blow Out (1981)
A Brian DePalma film that deserves more attention than it gets. John Travolta, in one of his best performances, is a sound effects man who one night is out by a bridge recording background noises when he witnesses a car going off the bridge. He jumps in the water managing to save the young woman (Nancy Allen). The man, a Senator and Presidential candidate (again) dies. Pressured to lie to the press about the woman being in the car, Travolta turns to his tapes for clues as to why the cover-up. Was it an accident or murder?
Whether you like Oliver Stone’s film or not and whether you believe Stone’s theories or not, JFK is a fascinating film to watch. True, Stone seems to accuse everyone from Castro, the CIA, the FBI, the Military Industrial Complex, the former Soviet Union and I think even my grandfather, a foreigner from Italy but the film is fascinating. My biggest problem with it is many young people today get their history from movies and Stone tosses around so many misconceptions here that they will “read” this film as absolute truth. No film based on any historical incident is the truth. There are always element of make believe.
Hey, wait a minute there are only nine films! Yes I know, and the title says ten. Well, I will leave that last one, or more, up to the reader. Add in your own favorite conspiracy film or films. There are plenty to choose from…