While JFK Remembered provides some background of his family life and ends with clips of notable moments following his assassination, it largely focuses on key moments throughout JFK’s 1000-day presidency. His presidential campaign receives some attention, especially regarding how he addressed his religious affiliation on the campaign trail. During my interview with director Robert Kline, he made it clear that his intention was to let JFK explain JFK, meaning he wanted to use real clips of JFK speaking rather than rely on interviews with historians to explain JFK. In this endeavor, the film succeeds at objectively presenting both lesser known and widely known clips of JFK, allowing the audience to see what Americans in that time period saw of JFK. Still, the film could’ve benefitted greatly from less discordant score and more adept use of the narrator in providing more transitional assistance, as the topic tended to change quickly and the music was more distracting than enjoyable.
Learning about history is a beautiful endeavor, but this film’s route was quite gravelly. If you’re looking to watch clips of John F. Kennedy during his presidency and don’t want to go to the JFK Library to do it, this film might be for you; just don’t expect to be wowed.
Mary Tobin: There have been a lot of depictions of JFK in film, especially in the last couple of years. How do you think all the different Hollywood versions compare to the man himself? Are there any movies that you think got the idea of him right?
Robert Kline: No. I believe that JFK in his own words is better than Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen can be. I’ll give you a perfect example. Why didn’t Nixon do well commercially? Because Anthony Hopkins was doing an imitation of Richard Nixon. Every time I see Rob Lowe, who is doing a miniseries, go on a talk show and try to sound like John Kennedy, I wince. I’d rather John Kennedy be John Kennedy. I think JFK in his own words represents JFK much better than an actor doing the voice. I’ll tell you what captures him. Why did Mitt Romney fail so badly trying to reach the 47%? Because there’s nothing common [about him]. Jack Kennedy, one of the wealthiest people in America, was told by Richard Daily in 1960—Daily was a Catholic—but the Pope himself could’ve come into Chicago, and Daily would’ve said, “Unless [Kennedy] shows he can win protestant states to overcome the anti-Catholic bias, I will not deliver the Illinois [votes].” Kennedy went into West Virginia, a democratic state, 95% Protestant, and very anti-Catholic, and he walked around with coal miners and he talked to them and had a beer. What made him so believable? He was unpretentious.
What are your major inspirations as a documentary filmmaker?
I want to inform, I want to educate, I want to inspire, and I want to entertain. Because remember your good college professors? If they didn’t entertain the class, you were going to tune them out. Likewise, whereas I agree with Michael Moore in many political areas, I think for him to move some of his images around, like in Fahrenheit [9/11] having the Saudis up at Walker’s Point in Maine and then showing their jet leaving America after 9/11—meaning the Bush Administration got the Saudis out—is not responsible documentary-making. I remember when we did the only documentary series ever done on terrorism for the Discovery Channel and they were getting calls Monday morning from Muslims, pro-Israelis, Afrikaaners, et cetera, [saying], “We want to know where to reach Bob Kline, who defamed Islam.” And another call, “We want to know where Bob Kline can be reached, who defamed the Israelis.” [We knew] we did a good job of being balanced.
Why do you think people connect with Kennedy so strongly?
He, to me, represented youth. The first vote I ever cast was for JFK. Nixon was only four years older and he seemed like his father. I’m not talking politically; he just seemed older. Kennedy was not just a democratic politician; he was somebody different. First of all you’re talking about a war hero, a legitimate war hero; you’re talking about a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for Profiles in Courage; you’re talking about somebody whose intelligence and sense of humor was on a different level. It’s important for people to know that Kennedy was not this flaming liberal because he brought the largest tax break per capita in the history of the country and we have that on film. But I’m subjective, I’m a child of the 60s, Kennedy inspired me, I look at his speech on space and going to the moon at Houston and I’m thinking ‘Wow, he had a power behind him.’
JFK Remembered is being released as part of the JFK: 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set, which includes the director’s cut of Oliver Stone’s award-winning film JFK, Stone’s JFK: To the Brink, new documentary JFK Remembered, documentary John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums, and feature film drama PT 109. In addition, the box set includes commemorative items from the Kennedy Presidential Library: collectible reproductions of family and presidential photos, a campaign poster from the 1960 presidential campaign, and a copy of Kennedy’s historic inaugural address. Lastly, there is a 32-page book of famous quotations, and a 44-page JFK movie photo book. You can find this collection for sale on Amazon, among other places.