By Stacey Longo
JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later, directed by Robert Kline, is one of a trilogy of documentaries that Warner Brothers Home Entertainment released on November 12, 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The documentary opens by asking why JFK’s presidency is still so memorable. The narrator offers a few answers: President Kennedy was vibrant, charismatic, and full of hope and idealism; however, these are just words. A better response would be “Here. Let’s just show you.”
For show us the documentarians do. The footage begins with a young John Kennedy announcing his candidacy for the presidency. The viewer is treated to rare footage from the campaign trail, and includes a memorable snippet in which the candidate addresses the issue of his Catholicism. “It matters not what kind of church I believe in . . . but what kind of America I believe in.” If you have no idea what kind of man President Kennedy was, you will soon come to realize that he was infinitely, undeniably, deliciously quotable.
The highlight of this section is not the 1960 televised debates in which Kennedy famously comes off as cool and polished while his opponent, then-Vice President Richard Nixon, seems shifty-eyed and nervous. It is instead the audio of one of Kennedy’s campaign ads, a catchy jingle proclaiming “It’s Kennedy, Kennedy, Kenn-e-dy for me!” It is a reminder of what an innocent time 1960 was, a contrast to the slander campaigns of today.
For a man who was only president for 1037 days (in comparison, by next September President Obama will have served for twice Kennedy’s term length) a lot happened during his tenure. After the election night coverage in Times Square, the documentary features footage from many of Kennedy’s presidential highlights: the formation of the Peace Corps, the Bay of Pigs invasion, granting the largest tax break in history, the desegregation of southern schools and the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, John Glenn’s space mission, Kennedy’s much-admired and still studied speech on peace and nuclear disarmament at American University, and more. Scenes from his visit to Berlin in June of 1963 are amazing. If you had any doubt that Kennedy wasn’t a phenomenon not only in his country but also around the world, this visit alone will convince you otherwise. The crowds of Germans cheering for him are in the hundreds of thousands—putting the Boston crowds after the Red Sox won the World Series to shame.
The film highlights the Cuban Missile Crisis, and JFK’s press conference announcing the missile activity and the evidence that the Soviet Union had lied is still riveting to this day. Thirteen days later, when the President announces that the crisis has passed, the stress and wear on his face is evident.
Sadly, we all know how this story ends. The documentary doesn’t delve into conspiracy theories, stating only that shots rang out in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. The film ends with footage of the funeral, the grieving family, and reflections from two other charismatic presidents—Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan—remembering the vigorous, vibrant President of an earlier, more innocent time.
I would absolutely recommend JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later not only to those who want to recollect the captivating and engaging president of their youth, but to new generations who just don’t understand what all the fuss was about. John F. Kennedy was a communicator and a leader.
But these are just words. Let me just show you.
JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later is available through Warner Home Video individually or as part of the JFK 50th Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition.