Over the past 50 years, over a thousand books have been published about the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Even now, half a century on from the event, upwards of 30 new volumes on the topic are released annually.
What's surprising is that the pick of bunch should be written not by a historian or a journalist, but by the guy who made Sid And Nancy.
Alex Cox – director, screenwriter, editor, children’s book illustrator, volunteer fireman and host of the BBC’s much missed Moviedrome – is the estimable brain behind The President And The Provocateur, a parallel study of the lives of Jack Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. While it’s not the first book to approach the events of November 22 1963 in such a fashion, Cox’s title impresses on account of its even handedness. Anyone with even a passing understanding of the subject will know that attitudes towards both the victim and his alleged assassin have wavered spectacularly over the years. Cox, though, while convinced that LHO was a fall guy, doesn’t disguise the fact that the former Marine had his failings. And as for Kennedy – who’s received a helluva retrospective kicking from the likes of Noam Chomsky - the author is as keen to stress his courage in warfare as he is to dismiss some of the myths that have come to surround Camelot.
One specific fallacy is pricked with impressive regularity: the notion that JFK was a hair’s breadth away from introducing sweeping civil rights legislation to the United States. A view recently propounded by Ed Balls on ITV’s The Late Debate, Cox goes to great lengths to demonstrate that whenever the issue needed to be addressed, President Kennedy dug in his heels like a toddler throwing a fit in a confectionary aisle. It wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson took office that the matter would be – somewhat – satisfactorily resolved, a truth lent a certain irony by the fact that LBJ – who’d been pushing JFK on the issue throughout his first and only term – had such a thick Texan accent that, whenever he talked about the plight of the American negro, he sounded like he was saying a rather more explosive n-word.
Of course, Kennedy’s successor, as the person who had most to gain from the killing, has often been fingered as a likely author of the assassination. Cox himself alluded to this fact in his introduction to a special ‘Kennedy Night’ screening of Alan J Pakula’s The Parallax View…
But while the way he sifts through the established theories is compelling, it’s the new revelations, in particular those concerning the assassination’s visual archive, that make The President And The Provocateur essential. Given his background, it’s inevitable that Cox should have a particular interest in the film and photographic material. In picking apart the most infamous photos of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man behind Repo Man and Walker is quick to point up some of the worst special effects this side of Plan 9 From Outer Space. However, it’s when Alex turns his attention to Abraham Zapruder’s celebrated film – as he does in the following clip - that business really picks up…
Now if all of that doesn’t leave you dying to read the book, it might be time to ask yourself whether you’re just another cog in the greatest conspiracy of them all.
The President And The Provocateur: The Parallel Lives Of JFK And Lee Harvey Oswald is available now from Oldcastle Books.