Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Lost JFK Tapes: Practically A Must See!

It was November 22, 1963, and I'd just finished writing my Grade XII Latin paper.
I walked out of Riverdale College (in Toronto's East End) and across to the bank to cash a scholarship check.
Inside there was emotional pandemonium. All the tellers and most of the customers were crying buckets.
"His poor wife..."was the lasting comment I remember.
President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Reports were vague whether he would survive.
I dashed home and watched live coverage from CBS's Walter Cronkite for the rest of that day.
And I thought I'd seen it all until the preview DVD of the "new" two-hour special The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination came my way.
You see back in 1963 there was no satellite transmission available. Cronkite for hours was basically running a radio news program with very few "images" to support him.
But the images do exist. It's just that most of us outside of the Dallas area never got to see them.
It was producer *(*(*(*('s idea to scour the local TV archives to see if any other material besides the network coverage ever got to TV and whether it could be restored and shown --remember videotape was in its infancy.
What he discovered was astonishing: hours of breaking news as reported live by Dallas's three TV outlets. Most of this was never seen outside the Dallas archives. Send to storage for 45 years, the tapes have been restored and edited into an engrossing account of that fateful day.
Crews simply planted their cameras firmly and shot for hours.
The day starts ominously in Fort Worth with a breakfast presentation to President Kennedy and wife Jacqueline where he is presented with a stetson but politely declines to put it on.
The coverage of the arrival at Dallas Love Field is complete. Some of the footage in color came from film crews --all the black and white stuff is videotape.
The most jarring moment comes when the Secret Service make the momentous decision because of the warm weather to disregard the bubble top so well wishers have a better chance to glimpse the glamourous couple. If the bullet proof glass bubble had been up Kennedy would have survived.
There is a ton of new stuff of the couple riding in triumph down crowded Dallas streets. The warmth of the reception is unmistakeable. Mrs. Kennedy in her hot pink suite is glimpsed chatting away to her husband. Both are basking in sheer adulation.
And then the shots --several different views of the shooting are presented. The most dramatic has a Secret Service man jumping onto the back of the car as Mrs. Kennedy shields her stricken husband.
The chaos at Parkland Hospital was fully captured by the news crews --at one point the rumor floats that Vice President Lyndon Johnson has been hit. Then, no, he's had a heart attack.Rumors about the fate of Governor Connelly float around.
There's an amazing amount of coverage of killer Lee Harvey Oswald in a downtown theater armed with a shotgun and many scenes of the press shouting questions as he proceeds into interrogation rooms.
Biggest surprise: in the midnight press conference Jack Ruby, Oswald's eventual assassin, is seen stalking in the background. And days later he darts out of the crowd to mortally shoot Oswald who screams and falls to the ground.
Even when Oswald is pronounced dead at Parkland hospital there's still confusion. One reporter continues calling him "Lee Harold Oswald".
Three funerals are then showcased: the lavish state funeral of Kennedy, the sad funeral of Officer Tippit in Dallas, and Oswald's funeral, barred to the public, where the only available pall bearers are the film crews covering the event.
The tiny human events are noticed: one of the eye witnesses says he heard shots coming from behind him supporting the thesis there was a second killer at the grassy knoll. When the President's death is announced at the luncheon where he was supposed to speak a black waiter breaks down in tears and we watch as the presidential seal is taken down from the podium.
The Lost JFK Tapes is the first must-see TV event of the season, so meticulously stitched together, with the past suddenly becoming alive again 47 years after those dreaded events. Contemporary students should be watching for the history lesson. Others like yours truly can finally see the whole sad spectace meticulously laid out --the first real test of TV's ability to carry a breaking event that truly changed the course of world events.
MY RATING: ****.

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