Greetings again from the darkness. This documentary was released in 2013, and the announcement today of the passing of Pete Seeger, finally pushed me to watch it. The motivation for the film was in tribute to JFK on the 50th anniversary of his death. Unfortunately, living in Dallas, there were just so many movies and events commemorating the tragic event, that this one slipped through the cracks. After watching, it’s clear that it is a worthy and emotional tribute.
The assassination occurred on Friday November 22, 1963. By Monday the 25th, more than 45,000 letters were delivered to the White House. In the first 50 days, more than 800,000 letters arrived. We are treated to the reading of 21 of these precious letters through the voices of many well known actors including: Betty White, Octavia Spencer, Chris Cooper, Demian Bichir, Berence Bejo, and a closing from Mark Ruffalo. These are letters from everyday people affected by the death of a man who many felt so connected to.
Emotions flow from the mostly handwritten letters (a lost art). Emotions ranging from anger to sadness to disbelief, and most of all, sympathy to Jackie Kennedy and her kids. Some compare their own tragic stories, while others explain how impacted they were by JFK. The sincerity is palpable. These people felt a need to reach out to Jackie … not as the Queen of Camelot, but rather as a saddened widow and single mother – one grieving person to another. Their words strike a nerve.
Director Bill Couturie won an Oscar as Producer of the 1989 documentary Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt. He helped capture some of the stories associated with the AIDS quilt. With that movie and this one, you might think Mr. Couturie is the most emotional and serious man in the movie business. Before concluding that, you should know he also directed Ed (1996). Haven’t seen Ed? It’s about a chimpanzee who plays baseball. Evidently Mr. Couturie has a lighter side as well.
The film works thanks to the real words of real people, and it’s provided a boost through some terrific footage of the incredible stages of Kennedy’s presidency: the inauguration speech, the chimp in space (not Ed), formation of the Peace Corps, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the trip to Paris, Jackie’s televised tour of the White House, the early stages of Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s speech in Berlin, the Freedom March, and of course the assassination. Some of the footage is stunning in clarity. Some it all too familiar.
John Kennedy was our youngest President (age 43) and the first to be born in the 20th century. His vision and presence, despite some failed efforts, connected with an enormous number of people throughout the US and even the world. The shattered feeling caused by his death still resonates even 50 years later, and it’s very sobering and touching to hear the words of so many just trying to make sense of a senseless act.
**NOTE: This is based on the book by Ellen Fitzpatrick
watch the trailer: