An inevitable byproduct of the study of history is the “What if?” game, the second-guessing of key events and decisions in light of the disasters that followed. One of the great American “What if?”s of the twentieth century is of course born from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the cutting short of the promise of Camelot and all the youthful hope it embodied. Of course, Kennedy came to embody much of that youthful hope once he was immortalized by untimely death, and the romanticization of his presidency by the public in the last four decades has often had less to do with what he actually did in office than what he symbolizes as a lasting pop culture icon.
First-time filmmaker Koji Masutani’s Virtual JFK uses a different approach and grounds the “What if?”s surrounding Kennedy in historical analysis by enlisting Brown University professor James G. Blight to take the viewer through Kennedy’s foreign policy during his brief term and how it might have been applied to the escalating situation in Vietnam after the time of his murder. Such an approach makes Virtual JFK less a documentary than a sort of feature-length lecture, a growing trend in the political doc genre in the wake of “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s a subgenre that doesn’t make for the most visually explosive cinema — Virtual JFK essentially consists of Blight’s narration explicated by Kennedy press conferences and other archival footage, including some revealing taped conversations between Kennedy and his advisors. But despite his film’s dryness, Masutani successfully sells a provocative, if one-sided, thesis that goes beyond unprovable “What if?”s and takes on the more fruitful debate of how much a single man can effect the course of history.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of Virtual JFK.