Reel Time: The Texas Documentary

Documentary film-making in Texas.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am

People are interesting (sometimes heroic) and government is bad (sometimes evil). As sweeping a generalization as that may be, it is precisely the kind of Big Truth that is at home in Texas, and valid—if you are to believe the picture of our state that emerges from this hodgepodge of documentary films.

Texans don’t trust their superiors much, for one thing: from Abraham Zapruder locking his newly-shot footage in a safe instead of simply handing it over to the Secret Service as many of us might have done, to the calm old folks of Amarillo keeping tally of cancer deaths even though the government and its partner Pantex have assured them they have nothing to fear. Texans aren’t afraid to fight, whether the adversary is a thousand-pound bull or the Dallas police department.

We’ve focused here on the big stories, because that’s what documentaries have traditionally been about. But recent films like Hands on a Hard Body tell us that the documentary medium is changing. The widespread availability of camcorders and the advance of digital technology allow for perfect, infinite reproductions and electronic preservation of footage, thus we can expect to see many more independently produced, personal stories told by individuals about themselves. In the future, we will learn about the state through its anonymous residents as much as through its infamous ones.

Beyond JFK: A Question of Conspiracy

Barbara Kopple and Danny Schechter 1992

A Nuestra Señora

Beyond JFK: A Question of Conspiracy

Beyond JFK: A Question of Conspiracy is a companion piece to Oliver Stone’s fictional film, JFK. Released around the same time, the documentary is in many ways a plug for the film, speaking of it and Oliver Stone in extremely reverential tones.

Although crammed full of compelling news footage and other information, the documentary makes the mistake of tugging too much at the heart strings rather than just presenting its case. Another unfortunate aspect was the choice to include the actors who starred in JFK alongside historians, witnesses, and other people directly connected with the tragedy. It is almost humorous to watch Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman speaking on the assassination with such certainty and acrimony, almost as if they are waiting for Stone to shout “cut”.

The strongest portions of Beyond JFK: A Question of Conspiracy are those dealing with Jim Garrison, in particular the footage of Garrison addressing the nation on NBC. Often labeled a crackpot, Garrison comes across as a man suffering from the Cassandra syndrome: he knows all the lies his leaders tell, and heºs banging at the gates of Eden, not because he wants back in but rather to help

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