In times past, everyone knew where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963 (11 at the time, we heard the news in an Ottawa grade school—every class was interrupted; strangely, I was saddened beyond belief at the sudden passing of JFK, to the point that I was asked, “Are you an American?,” barely knowing a thing about him but wondering why the assassination of a U.S. President should have such a personal impact).
Only later, much later, I realized that it was not the actual man per se, but another loss to the “civilized” world, which, since the first city wall was erected, has and still does send millions to an early grave in the name of various gods, then market development and, currently, the unbridled enthusiasm by world powers for globalization.
Over forty years since that grim day, producer/director/narrator Robert Bayne’s thoroughly researched, effectively structured (using a well-balanced combination of historical footage and stills, complemented by actors re-enacting the lives of the principals—notably the young man who plays the killer, although shaving his chest would have strengthened the similarity to Oswald’s actual torso) probe into the man behind the rifle (killing Kennedy) and the gun (killing Officer Tippit the same day). Bayne convincingly asserts his thesis that the disillusioned U.S. Marine/Russian defector/“repatriot” acted alone.
Conspiracy devotees will be outraged (those who only accept the facts they like) but the 35th President of the United States of America is just as dead.
To give the findings extra veracity, Bayne manages to loosen the tongues of many tight-lipped friends and acquaintances—particularly during Oswald’s Minsk period (January 6, 1960-June 1, 1962). From those clips we learn of the fading ideologist’s role as a fashion leader (sweaters without undershirts!), lazy worker (why break into a sweat when your meager wages as a welder are KGB-via-the-Red-Cross subsidized?), loner and womanizer.
Members of the KGB were his constant companions, infiltrating Oswald's frequent house parties (big-breasted women were particularly welcome) and even his hunting trips (on one of those, an errant—apparently—shot left one of his co-workers near dead—JFK would not be so lucky). But once the secret police were convinced the troubled young man was not, in fact, an American agent, the extra cash was cut off and they had no objection to Oswald’s return stateside.
On more than one occasion Bayne suggests that Oswald’s rejection by Ella—his first true love—may well have set the assassin’s wheels in motion. Then before you can say “rebound,” Oswald meets, marries and impregnates Marina. But the honeymoon is soon over when the new mom realizes her husband has been secretly negotiating their return to America with the U.S. Embassy (Consul Richard Snyder is all smiles: he still has the murderer’s abandoned passport—next best thing to a head on a pole). The tension soon escalates to the point of violence and despair. Incredibly, they all move to Texas—a tragedy of a different sort.
Also enhancing the proceedings are some marvellous tracks of Russian folk, choral and pop music, but nothing can top journalist/friend Victor Ledenev’s on-camera rendition of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons.” The impassioned growling bass sets up his solo beautifully: “In the ‘60s, we all realized it [Communism] was an illusion: we liked American songs.”
That feeling of betrayal by two systems of government, ultimately, fueled the dark recesses and personal desperation of Oswald to the point where he had nothing left to believe in. Then fate intervened and brought JFK within his sights. No doubt, Oswald acted alone, but it was his deadly reaction to an uncaring world that just as surely pulled the trigger. JWR