Review by Diego
of Fact and Form
It would be perverse
to say that the same nation that wages war against sovereign countries is
just sick and tired of watching the consequences play out on its screens.
Perverse and true, like most things human.
The Iraq war
has spawned an apparently endless legion of war films specific to that conflict
that has driven us to Iraq war-blindness. They soon begin to seem the same,
and studios need to come up with smart marketing strategies to express the
uniqueness of their film. Still, one is quick to find reviewers who promise
"this is not just another Iraq war movie, really."
Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived (opening at Film Forum in New York on Wednesday,
Sept. 17, 2008) has to do with Iraq "only"
as metaphor, but the gimmick here is clear. And, at times, it seems not much
more than that: a fun concept, sloppily executed, yet with tons of extraordinary
historical footage. Virtual JFK, for the most part, looks quite flat and sounds
even flatter when studio shots are juxtaposed, so awkwardly, with the rich
archival images. It's kind of like alternating sips of Starbucks
coffee and a Lavazza espresso: the differences in quality will become ridiculously
obvious. Except, of course, if you have no developed palate for coffee and
don't know what Lavazza is, in which case Starbucks'
may taste like gourmet coffee to you and, who knows, you may think that James
Blight's narration shots were captured on super 8.
Masutani's attempt at using Errol Morris'
style as documentary template, Virtual JFK revisits Kennedy's
stances on issues of war and peace to suggest (with the subtlety of blinking
neon) that had he lived, Vietnam would have been a much smaller bloodstain
on the American Flag.
in hypothesis filled with redundant shots and clichéd tension
music (one almost dreads the heartbeat audio effect coming) has its
rewards. They are mostly the surprising revelation, through candid footage
of JFK's press conferences, that the president could be incredibly good-humored
and bear the timidity of a repressed boy from Massachusetts in front of an
inquisitive press trying to gather the correct words and sound eloquent
But Virtual JFK
is little more than its premise and its amassed visual research. It borrows
so much from the cinematic vocabulary of Morris' films without
infusing the it with engaging substance. At times the JFK footage goes on
so long you forget it exists within the context of this film and is being
narrated by a Brown University professor, and you hope that he never comes
back on screen.
Much of what
bound together The Fog of War (2003) was the uncanny allure of its narrator's
etched face and his larger-than-life historical significance. In Standard
Operational Procedure (2008), too, there was an irrevocable weight behind
(and exuding from) the eyes of the people facing the camera that made us pay
attention, and care, and stand agape -- covering our open mouths in slow motion
(How could they?). But here, Brown University professor James Blight's
attempt at suture feels more Bill Nye the Science Guy than Robert McNamara.
More explication than implication.