I think that, until 9/11, it was a bit difficult for people of my generation to understand just how far-reaching the effects of the Kennedy assassination were on not just the American public, but the world. The shock people felt—the horror, the outrage, and the need to understand how it could happen—remain with us nearly fifty years after like a massive black scar on our collective conscious.
It’s hard to believe that after all these years that there would be anything new to add, but just recently The History Channel aired a three-hour documentary covering the assassination from just a few hours before it occurred all the way up to the Nineties. What makes this an amazing endeavor is that the documentary is 99.9% original footage culled from home movies and television coverage. There are no talking heads interpreting the events for us; the only information outside of the source material are brief moments of text telling us where we are chronologically in the chain of events, or providing essential background information on people or events. It’s a fascinating way of presenting the documentary and one that for me works extremely well.
By allowing the footage to speak for itself, the raw emotion of the tragedy comes through more clearly than anything I’ve ever seen on the assassination. Watching the events leading up to the assassination are almost painful. To see the man so young and full of life and to know what’s to come is almost unbearable. I actually had the urge to yell at the TV screen the way some people do when watching horror movies. I’m sure that sounds silly, but that’s how caught up I was in the documentary.
It is quite long, though, and by the end I felt exhausted. I’m not sure how much this will appeal to history buffs like myself or Kennedy enthusiasts, but for my money this is the best documentary on the assassination I have ever seen. It’s certainly the most comprehensive, focusing on the moments before, during, and after that fateful day, and I feel like I have a better understanding of the real significance of the event and how in some ways we’re still dealing with it even now.
The documentary is presented Fullscreen with the audio in Dolby Digital stereo. As the majority of the footage comes from home movies and television recordings from the Sixties and Seventies, the quality fluctuates dramatically; however, there was never a moment when I had trouble understanding what I was seeing, or was unable to hear what was going on. The filmmakers did a very good job putting it all together.
Make no mistake, this is a long, taxing documentary, but the effectiveness of the approach and the emotional vibrancy of the footage make this absolutely worth watching. You may not want to buy this considering the length and lack of special features and replay value, but this is definitely worth renting. Highly recommended.
A&E Television Networks presents JFK: 3 Shots that Changed America. Running time: 188 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: January 26, 2010. Available at Amazon.
Tags: documentary, history channel