December 28, 1991 [JFK]

Two kinds of nostalgia run through JFK--one benign, even silly; the other hard and morose, a broad shoulder slowly pushing through a stunned crowd.

For a long time JFK was like one of those big ‘70s movies that enlisted the best (and otherwise) of both big and small screens into dubious service: The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Airplane, Earthquake. There’s Paul Newman! With Barry Sullivan! And George Kennedy! Say, isn’t that Helen Hayes? And Fred Astaire? And Van Heflin? At times these movies seemed like vast cinematic trawlers gathering stars indiscriminately--but there was a sense of almost-clever collage about it, too, tossing old warhorses at up-n-comers, grabbing you by the collar with both hands and yelling into your face, I’m a movie! And we’re ALL ready for our closeup! JFK goes farther, wedging actors into roles where you’d never think they’d fit--Joe Pesci in particular: He arrives in some green gascloud of rotted desire that only hours later reminds me of anything else he’s done. The effect, almost every time an actor showed up on the screen, brought me up short, mostly in admiring surprise.

But thank God for Kevin Costner, cast just as he should be, his accent mild and his demeanor pure downhome Untouchables, impatient that no one has any manners. His long ride “through the looking-glass” leaves him fierce behind schoolmarm spectacles that sometimes actually flash.

--And those eyeglasses cue the other nostalgia--or something like it, in a miserable way: The “brief shining moment” we imagined we had for a few years, neckties thin and creases sharp, white short-sleeved shirts reaching for phones and notepads--like cool-cookie NASA nerds waging their pocket-protector revolution, some kind of heroes--again, for a little while, until I had to look away from JFK’s last home movie, suddenly sick of JFK, wishing it would leave him and me alone. But it keeps coming at me without remorse and spinning its web that ruins everything I wish I could remember--which fades and leaves the smug killers to find new homes in this new decade, letting the past be the past so that we can never hold it again without unease.


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