Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

In a basic sense this stuff is really forceful, really impressive. This is montage: kinetic juxtaposition leads us to concepts, really quickly, really efficiently, really inexpensively. In this latter connection, it strikes one that compilation films are both the great lost and the more excellent way. Think how much more a person could produce, how much more he or she could do with scissors, glue, and a brain. Students, are you listening?!

Mind you, that kinetic juxtaposition leads the viewer to concepts in the manner of the old Soviets, and of current advertisers. They would brag about empowering viewers, and it was sure a helpful change from the bourgeois run-of-the-mill. But sometimes the Soviets’ method left those viewers with no time to think, or even breathe. And sometimes it wasn’t fair. Eisenstein’s fat capitalists don’t really help address the inequities of the market system, or prepare for a more helpful alternative.

So it is with this film. Is LBJ a murderer, and are American governments, by extension, murderous? A fair question, and a very important one. The first LBJ montage is both provocative and effective. But pulling your foe down by intercutting his daughter’s wedding pictures with photos and cartoons from Playboy? Effective, I guess, but so unfair as to be inadmissible. The same goes with the photos of him and his grandchild. (Mind you, in I Am Cuba Kalatozov did take on the murderous family man in a manner that was sensitive and rigourous. K. Kieslowski’s solution—fictionalize it—may be the best solution after all.) Being a jerk about a jerk makes you just as much of a jerk.

So, some really impressive juxtaposition (esp. the MLK part). There’s some antical, overtonal stuff that frankly obscures the message. What is Alvarez saying about JFK? Also, the (seeming) thesis is plain dubious. For all of his sins, LBJ didn’t actually kill those guys. And, a la G.W. Bush and immigration, the vile war criminal also brought to pass some considerable righteousness in the area of civil rights legislation. Agit-prop is so powerful! History and reality may deserve something quieter, and more methodologically responsible.