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DVD Review: Oswald’s Ghost

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Forty-five years ago, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and after some tumult, it was officially concluded that the assassin was former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. Forty-five years later, this explanation remains unsatisfactory to a majority of the American public.

Robert Stone’s documentary Oswald’s Ghost is a look at Oswald’s involvement in the assassination and an examination of a man deemed far too inconsequential to have killed JFK alone. Kind of.

For a film purporting to focus on Oswald (judging by the title, I assume this is the case) it gets distracted rather easily. The film opens with an emphasis on the Soviet defector, but quickly strays into the land of conspiracy theories and beyond. Naturally any doc on the JFK assassination is going to need to go there, but the film even wanders beyond that, looking at the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations within the larger context of the state of America. Certainly, the events are all related thematically, but it’s hard not to feel like the scope of the film gets a little out of hand. By the end of the film though, it comes back around to focus mostly on Oswald, or at least the JFK case.

Despite its tendency to become distracted, the film is highly informative and interesting throughout. Those unfamiliar with the specific events that took place following the assassination will find the film a useful primer in guiding them through history. But even history buffs who’ve heard it before will likely be pleasantly surprised at much of the archival footage.

Easily the film’s greatest strength, there is a great deal of archival video and audio that is not the same footage generally seen replayed over and over. The researchers involved in the making of Oswald’s Ghost did their job thoroughly and the doc really benefits from the inclusion of this archival material. Certainly the film makes use of ubiquitous material like the Zapruder film, but much will seem fresh to most viewers.

In addition, the film makes use of a wide number of interviewed sources, from journalists to historians to conspiracy theorists to activists to politicians. Perhaps the best interview comes from the late author Norman Mailer. The film ends with a monologue from Mailer, and it’s the best thing in this film.

Ultimately, Oswald’s Ghost is nothing earth-shattering. It doesn’t solve the JFK assassination conclusively, although it seems like it sure wants to at points. Still, the film makes good use of its interviews and archival footage and remains interesting throughout despite lacking very much newly filmed footage. In an age when the “living documentary” continues to increase in popularity, there’s not a lot of room left for the older-style docs like this one. It’s a good one though, and for anyone who needs a crash course on the Kennedy assassination and the subsequent fallout, you could do worse than Oswald’s Ghost.

The DVD includes three featurettes:

“A Visit to the Dealey Plaza” is footage of the crackpots who dispense their theories to tourists. They also sell T-shirts.

“The Zapruder Film and Beyond” is a fascinating look at the history of the most famous footage of the assassination. It’s the best of the three.

“Interview with Robert Stone” is just that. The director of the film is an intelligent guy, and the interview is mildly interesting.

Oswald’s Ghost was probably not the most accurate choice for the title of this film. Still, it probably sounds better than Another JFK Assassination Movie.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.