"Virtual JFK" imagines hypothetical history

Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:57am EDT
 
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By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A compelling history lesson that offers an insightful primer on the Kennedy presidency even while proving sadly germane to our current times, "Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived" spells out its provocative premise in its title.

Using the examples of six highly charged situations in which John F. Kennedy declined to use military force even while many of his closest advisers urged him to, Koji Masutani's documentary makes a highly convincing case that modern history might have been far different if not for an assassin's bullets. The film recently received its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

Using extensive on-camera commentary by Brown University professor James G. Blight (who also served as a producer and writer on the project), the film examines, to borrow Richard M. Nixon's term, "six crises" in Kennedy's presidency, including the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs mission and tense situations in Laos and Vietnam.

Admittedly an exercise in speculative fiction that can only engage in "what if" scenarios, the film does make a strong argument that Kennedy would have resisted the massive military buildup that eventually was engendered by his successor in the White House.

Many of the film's most entertaining moments are, ironically, its most peripheral: namely, the extensive archival clips of news conferences in which an alternately relaxed and tense Kennedy jostled with journalists. Both the pointed questions and articulate, often witty responses serve as a reminder of what has been missing in the White House press room in recent years.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter