Archive for Joseph McBride

The Mysterious Death Project

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2022 by dcairns

I really enjoyed THE PLOT TO KILL KENNEDY: RUSH TO JUDGMENT, directed by Emile de Antonio from the book Rush to Judgement by Mark Lane. Released in 1967, it beats THE PRICE OF POWER into cinemas by two years, meaning that the spaghetti western was not the first feature film inspired by the Kennedy assassination, just the first fiction film.

One of the grislier attractions of the film is the fact that a number of the interviewees met with mysterious fates. The film ends on Mrs. Acquilla Clemens, witness to the killing of Officer J.D. Tippit. She identified two men as being involved, neither of them resembling Lee Harvey Oswald, who is officially credited with the murder. Asked if she spoke to anyone about this, she says she was visited by an armed man a couple of days later, who told her “someone might hurt me if I would talk.” Investigating the case for his book Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit, Joseph McBride was chilled to discover that Clemens had vanished shortly after this interview — her surviving family had no knowledge of her whereabouts, although there was a bathetic notion that “she might have gone to Philadelphia.” He justifiably concludes that she showed great courage in coming forward.

(McBride also discovered that the witnesses who DID identify Oswald as Tippit’s killer were mostly or all connected fairly directly to Jack Ruby, a very suggestive fact.)

Clemens seems perfectly sincere and honest, or as much as anyone in the film. In spite of her Hitlerian hairdo. Due to the filmmaker’s habit of positioning the interviewer to one side and the camera to the front, ALL of the interviewees look shifty and uncertain, as they can’t decide where to look. There’s a lesson there.

The other mystery case is L.E. Bowers Jr. He witnessed the Kennedy assassination from his place of work, the tower building of the Union Terminal Company. What he saw and heard — much seemingly official activity at the grassy knoll, and “some unusual occurrence, a flash of light or smoke or something,” at the time of the shooting. This is pretty suspicious language. In the book he says, “a flash of light or, as far as I am concerned, something I could not identify,” which is even funnier, but at least he’s consistent.

Bowers was to die when his car smashed into a concrete bridge abutment. Depending on the account, this was suspicious because there was nothing else on the road, or because he was driven off the road by a black car. Dying of his wounds, Bowers supposedly told ambulance workers that he felt his drink had been spiked at his last rest stop. No autopsy was performed.

But researcher David Perry located the surviving ambulance attendant, one Noel Coward(!), who said Bowers didn’t say anything, because “the man’s head was pretty bad.”

This one is baffling on the face of it because Bowers had already told his story. Why kill him? What’s that going to do, except lend credence to what he’d said? Unless that was the intention, or unless he was killed for reasons entirely unrelated to his status as presidential assassination witness. Bowers’ friend, Charles Good, says Bowers knew more than he told the Warren Commission. But in RUSH TO JUDGEMENT, he confirms this, and then tells everything he knows.

So maybe he wasn’t murdered, and maybe he didn’t see what he said he saw. His description of the two men and their vehicles (down to the out-of-state license plates on one car) which he claims to have seen on the knoll, behind the picket fence, are startlingly detailed when you consider that when he saw them, he had no particular reason to pay attention. The assassination hadn’t happened. It was just pre-motorcade activity. And then, when something memorable DOES happen, he’s fuzzy on it.

Cops used to set a lot of store by witnesses who sounded confident and gave detailed descriptions. Today we know that such people are less likely to be reliable than those who sound uncertain and don’t recall many details.

But Bowers tells his story well. He’s no shiftier in the questionable areas than he is on hard fact.

There are a lot more people connected to the assassination who suffered suspicious deaths. I mean, I put it to you, karate chop to the throat is suspicious. But they’re not in this documentary.

If I were going to elucidate my own conspiracy theory, I would suggest that in the case of JFK, rather than covering up the truth by actively suppressing it, someone is covering up the true nature of the crime with a lot of bullshit. Consider the case of movie actor Karyn Kupcynet (Shirley in Corman’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). She was murdered in LA a few days after Kennedy was hit in Dallas. She was definitely murdered (fractured hyoid bone, and we know how conclusive THAT is) but no one was ever convicted.

Various theorists have asserted that she was the woman who tried to make a long distance call a few days before the assassination, and was heard by the operator screaming that the president was going to be killed. But there is no good reason to assume Kupcinet was this unknown person, or that she had any connection to Kennedy, Oswald, Ruby, or any of the other principles. The best anyone has offered is that her father once lived in Chicago and might have met Ruby when he lived there.

So here we have a genuinely startling piece of information — a warning of the impending assassination — which, if true, would strongly suggest conspiracy — being smothered by a fatuous and debunkable connection to an irrelevant (but tragic and intriguing) Hollywood homicide.

Similarly, if anybody was killed off post-assassination for knowing too much — and Jack Ruby would head my list — he SAID he had been given cancer deliberately — it’s obscured and made incredible by a cloud of bullshit, a Mummy’s Curse narrative of easily debunkable and nonsensical false claims. Is Oliver Stone a useful idiot? Or just the regular kind?

It’s a theory, anyway. Just what this case is short of.


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2021 by dcairns

Watching HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY I wondered if it appeared in time in 1941 to influence Orson Welles’ plans for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS? (Welles being a big Ford fan after all. And there are thematic similarities in these accounts of a vanished past.) The idea to keep much of the narration from Richard Llewellyn’s source novel, and play it over dialogue-free scenes, and use montage to cover a story with a long span, apparently came from studio head Darryl Zanuck. It’s an approach which could easily be disastrous if applied clumsily, since you lose firmly dramatic scenes which grip, and gain, if you’re lucky/skilled, a more ethereal, intangible quality, poetic rather than dramatic.

Looking at Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, I learn about William Wyler’s crucial involvement, casting much of the picture and overseeing the design of the village, an incredible setting. Wyler chose Roddy McDowall for the lead — screenwriter Philip Dunne called Roddy the true auteur of the picture, and said “This solves our length problem, because they’ll never forgive us if we let that boy grow up.” The film was set to be four hours long and the kid was supposed to mature into Tyrone Power. Imagine. Technicolor was also considered at an early stage, Zanuck envisioning an epic to rival GONE WITH THE WIND. And, after all, it’s How GREEN Was My Valley, right?

Same year as KANE — and note the ceilings.

It’s all wondrous to think of, since although the book is the reason there’s a film, the principle things that make it a great film are Ford’s use of McDowall and the b&w cinematography of Arthur C. Miller, which is exquisite. Miller mostly wasted his gifts on indifferent Fox fodder. The Malibu Hills are not the Welsh Valleys, but the movie conjures its own version of Wales, complete with a cast of assorted accents — Donald Crisp, a cockney who affected Scottishness in real life, like Eric Campbell, Chaplin’s Goliath, makes the most consistent effort to sound right — Rhys Williams, playing blind boxer Dai Bando, is one of very few actual Welsh actors.

Another thing I wondered is if this movie invented the highlights reel — a closing set of flashback memories to certain golden moments in the preceding movie. When “Seems Like Old Times” plays for a second time in ANNIE HALL and we get glimpses of earlier scenes, that kind of thing. Reminding the audience how much they enjoyed the film, hopefully — with an indifferent film it’s infuriating — this movie is all flashbacks anyway, from a largely unseen present tense, so it’s a bold and interesting choice to repeat certain flashes. I can’t think of an earlier example. Of course it’s a clever Hollywood device to diffuse the downbeat effects of a tragic ending. Go into the magic past and end on something happier. Those memories will never fade. Things may be bad now, and uncertain to get better, but happiness is real — the past is still here. We just can’t quite step into it. Time may be an illusion, as Einstein said, but it’s a very persistent one. So this kind of Hollywood illusion is bittersweet — we’re presented with a joyful image but with a little thinking we can see past it.

Last Ciggie at Marienbad

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on September 1, 2017 by dcairns

So, yesterday I posted what I take to be Richard Lester’s MARIENBAD-inspired Grant’s Whiskey commercials, and WITHIN THE HOUR I get word on Facebook from Steven Otero — he has the L&M cigarettes ad Lester mentioned in his Sight & Sound interview with Joseph McBride, which is also a Resnais pastiche. Very much so, in fact!

Lester: “I made a rather odd L&M commercial. John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz and I each made one of a series.”

McBride: “What was yours like?”

Lester: “It was like Marienbad. Why they came to me I don’t know. They said they wanted something which was absolutely me and suggested something that was absolutely Resnais. But, eclectic to the end, I sort of pitched in.”

I guess that architectural plan way of looking at buildings DOES connect Resnais and Lester — the palace scenes in THREE MUSKETEERS, for instance.

I’m not sure Mr. Lester really wants all this stuff dug up. It was meant to be ephemeral.