Decisions, decisions. What to see at the cinema: will you go to see the new Jacqueline Kennedy biopic starring Natalie Portman? It already has a likely Oscar label round her performance.
Those of a certain age may well have second thoughts about Jackie. They will remember the hope – and glamour – of the young American President and his wife. And the feelings of optimism and one-world unity he brought to a time that was still in the shadow of the Second World War but was also deep into the Cold War.
JFK succeeded President Ike – whose latter years as President were, we were told, spent mainly on the golf course. As he left office, the ex-soldier and American WW2 commander of heroic proportions, saw fit to warn of the dangers posed by the “military-industrial complex” – and he knew a thing or two about that. Someone should send Trump a poker-work version of that warning.
With JFK it was a hope and optimism to be grasped more eagerly because it was also the time of the nuclear threat with Americans building shelters in the basements of many of New York’s apartment blocks. But with the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy had brought the world back from the edge of extinction. Phew!
His death barely dimmed that hope and optimism as his brother Robert (who had an even clearer world view than JFK) would soon follow in his footsteps – wouldn’t he? In June next year we will be marking the fiftieth anniversary of Robert’s murder – or, perhaps, assassination.
By coincidence, at the end of 2016 a book was published reminding us all too clearly of the death of JFK. It also has some salutary lessons on the divisions between the right for the public to know and the private person’s right to dignity – and between violence and avoiding the depiction or even reporting of some violence.
The book is called Twenty-six Seconds and it is sub-titled ‘A Personal History of the Zapruder Film’. It is by Alexandra Zapruder. She is the granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder, an immigrant Russian dress manufacturer, who happened to be standing above the right sidewalk in Dallas at the right time, and take some historic frames of amateur film.
He saw the shooting of John F Kennedy through the viewfinder of his Bell & Howell Zoomatic movie camera.
His film lasts, of course, twenty-six seconds – just long enough to show just too much of a terrible crime. Those few frames became an integral part of the JFK story – and made Zapruder very rich indeed. It is said that he earned sixteen million dollars from them.
Whether we need to read about this film now is a matter rather on a par with the decision as to whether or not we watch Jackie the movie. One American reviewer has written of his personal doubts about the fictional film – despite Ms Portman’s performance, despite the detail of the script, despite the exactness of the seams and colours of her clothes – and their grim blood spatter.
Anthony Lane calls Jackie ‘a dance to the music of grief’: “I happen to find the result intrusive, presumptuous, and often absurd, but, for anyone who thinks that all formality is a front, and that the only point of a facade is that it should crack, Jackie delivers a gratifying thrill.”
For some people it may be that any reminder of that time of hope and optimism is just too hard to bear.
From the hopes of JFK and Obama, we have moved to a time of eternal anxiety. People are anxious about ‘others’, about climate change, about terrorism, about globalisation and big business, about the effects of inequalities, about the loss of international solidarity that lived so briefly…and about much else.
The problem we now face is that Donald Trump does not seem on know what anxiety is.