Oswald’s Ghost, a new documentary by filmmaker Robert Stone, debuts on American Experience

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The 2007-08 season of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE opens with Oswald’s Ghost, a new documentary by filmmaker Robert Stone. It purports to chronicle “America’s forty-year obsession with the pivotal event of a generation,” the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963.

Oswald’s Ghost is not another “whodunit” film about the assassination. Rather, it is billed as close to a “definitive account” of what the assassination did to America. “This is a film,” in the words of writer/producer/director Robert Stone, “about how we absorbed and responded to the trauma and shock of being inexplicably—and repeatedly—robbed of our sense of idealism, optimism, and security.” Put more bluntly perhaps, Oswald’s Ghost is the baby boomers’ penultimate take on the defining mystery (supposedly) of their lives.

There is a level on which Oswald’s Ghost succeeds. Through the recollections of authors such as the late Norman Mailer, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, and others, the documentary vividly recalls to mind the nation’s raw emotions. Mailer evokes the immediate aftermath, when he observes that “The real shock was philosophical, as if God had removed his sanction from America.” Political activists, ranging from Tom Hayden to Todd Gitlin to Gary Hart (which, come to think of it, is not a very broad range) summon the effect of the assassination and its aftermath on the baby boom generation in particular.

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