JFK Filmography "Dead Again and Again"
An exclusive expose of Hollywood's secret attempts to turn the assassination of John F. Kennedy into big box-office entertainment.
The long, long road from first script to finished feature film is, all too often, fraught with more false starts, detours and wrong turns than a trip to Malibu after the February mudslides. It should come as no surprise, then, that JFK, Oliver Stone's current film about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, is merely the end product of an anguished series of attempts by distinguished cinematic talents to get a fix on one of the slipperiest properties to hit Hollywood since Julia Roberts came to town.
The difficulties inherent in wading through a quarter-century of monk-like scribblings by conspiracy nuts to arrive at a cogent two-hour studio film that wouldn't contribute to the Hollywood recession proved too tall an order for many directors. Indeed, the project drove one former Oscar nominee, a well-known gun-for-hire from the Canadian school, to madness. He was found curled up under a table in the Universal Pictures commissary, speaking in a Texas drawl and whiting-out footnotes in the Warren Commission report.
Over a three-year period, at least 10 major, and a few minor, directors came and went before Oliver ("Mr. '60s") Stone signed on and brought this ambitious project to its knees...er, rather, the screen. Stone (who last strove to convince us that Jim Morrison was a tortured genius with excellent intentions), chose to view the Kennedy assassination less from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository than through the eyes of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, whose contribution to the overall confusion surrounding the famous Dallas murder was to accuse some guy named Clay Shaw of facilitating the deed. (When Garrison failed to pin the assassination on Shaw, wags at the time suggested he should get Shaw for the Lindbergh kidnapping.) Ultimately, of course, Stone holds the dark upper recesses of the U.S. Government responsible, the same nameless Darth Vaders who tried to get his testicles shot off in 'Nam. Well, that's certainly one possible scenario, but other great minds with other great obsessions to work from had very different ideas about how to tell the story of what took place in Dealey Plaza.
After several weeks of covert investigation, I came upon a cache of abandoned scripts in the northeast corner of the sixth floor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Filled with notations by big screen luminaries and accompanied by studio memos on casting, these documents now allow me to sketch out the various versions of the Kennedy assassination that almost came to a theater near you.
I had long ago heard that Martin Scorsese was the first to take this material seriously for a feature film, and a letter tucked inside Paul Schrader's draft of the script indeed confirmed that Scorsese had at last come to feel that, though Irish, the Kennedys were close enough to his fantasy of a rich Italian family to be worth dramatizing. Needless to say, Many Bullets, as Scorsese and Schrader had titled the piece, had the Mafia behind the assassination. Lee Harvey Oswald (Griffin Dunne was penciled in for a cameo) comes in only as a bit player, because he's not Italian; Scorsese has him eating a tuna fish sandwich on white in the Book Depository cafeteria during the shooting. The actual assassins (Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel were to play these roles) are imported from the Marseilles mafia by U.S. chieftains Sam Giancana, Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis) to get Robert Kennedy off their phones and golf courses by removing the only guy who would ever have thought of making him Attorney General of the United States. All this is established in the first act while the three marksmen share an attractive lapsed Catholic girl from Fort Worth (Rosanna Arquette).
Scorsese planned to film the scene in Dealey Plaza with live ammunition, 13 steadicam operators, and a thousand-foot crane rented from NASA that would let him do one continuous tracking shot from the moment of the fatal bullet to the arrival at Parkland Hospital, miles away. He had preordered 10,000 extra-spritz blood capsules for the slow-mo shot of the President's brain matter spewing out in back of the limo. In order to have as many gunshots as possible and justify the movie's title without flying in the face of acoustical evidence, Scorsese planned to have his gunmen do synchronized shooting, so that for each bang he would be able to photograph three bullets from three different directions.