A Review of Oliver Stone's JFK: Special Edition Director's Cut

© W. Tracy Parnell 2001


Ten years after his 3-hour blockbuster JFK rocked the American consciousness and sparked an outcry that resulted in the Assassination Records Review Board, Oliver Stone returns with a special edition DVD of particular interest to anyone who is a student of the assassination of President Kennedy.  Included in this version are the theatrical trailer, two multi-media essays as well as deleted and extended scenes. However, the special feature that will undoubtedly be of the greatest interest is Stone's commentary, which is about four hours in length. In the interest of brevity, this review will focus on the deleted/extended scenes and Stone's commentary on those scenes.

First Impressions

The new DVD is presented in an attractive two-disc package as part of the "Oliver Stone Collection". In keeping with a current trend, one can access more features (web links, reviews, and more trailers) with a DVD-ROM drive. Disc one is the film itself while disc two contains the special features. It is immediately apparent that the DVD format is the one of choice for full enjoyment of a long film such as JFK because of the ability to move quickly from one scene to another. This type of study was much more tedious and time consuming with the VHS version. The video quality of the DVD transfer is excellent as is the re-mastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. The film is presented in wide screen format only to appeal to the target audience of collectors. At a retail price of about $20, this disc is well worth the money.

Twelve scenes are offered here, three of which (Garrison and Miller, Oswald's ghost, and the alternate ending) really stand out, the latter mostly for the background information concerning its creation. The user has the option of hearing the original audio only or audio with Stone's commentary added.

Jack Ruby Injected With Cancer (3:13)

Despite the extreme implausibility involved, Stone adds this deleted scene to his new DVD, showing Ruby (Brian Doyle-Murray) being injected with one of the largest needles around. It is easy to understand why Stone axed this scene (easily the worst of the twelve) as it alternates between near comedy and extreme sluggishness. I almost expected to see Murray's old Get a Life co-star Chris Elliot appear to play the doctor giving the injection. Jim Garrison is horrible as Earl Warren and the give and take between him and Doyle-Murray is non-existent. It appears as though they were both hoping Stone would yell, "CUT" any second.

In defense of the sequence, Stone states, "The point I think we should just accept in realistic black is white and white is black through the looking glass terms … is that while allegations of cancers and heart attacks and other deaths that are convenient may sound paranoid and far-fetched, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies did in undisputed and documented fact develop these capabilities".

Jim Garrison and Dean Andrews (4:54)

There is not much noteworthy in this extended scene (4:54 compared with 2:57 in the Director's Cut) other than Stone's commentary. On the relationship between Garrison and Dean Andrews, he states, "He liked Dean, but he looked down on him as some kind of interesting low-ball slime from New Orleans - of which there are plenty down there, believe me".

On the subject of the Clay Bertrand alias, Stone says, "We find out later in the movie that Clay Bertrand is Clay Shaw; six, seven, eight, people have … made this connection, it's a common known thing and there are more even that have made it".

One interesting part of this scene is when the "gay kids" are seen with Oswald in Andrews' office. Where in the Director's Cut we are given only a quick glimpse of these characters, in the extended scene they are featured prominently. This segment prompts Stone to comment on the sexual climate of the time period with the following results:

"Once Eisenhower and Mamie left, I think everybody started to experiment with John and Jackie in the White House and certainly people were coming out left and right."

Finally, Stone makes an interesting gaffe when he states that Garrison's On the Trail of the Assassins was published in 1993 or '94, which is obviously wrong since his film (partially based on that work) was released in 1991.

Jim Garrison and Liz Garrison at Home (1:16)

In this brief deleted scene, Liz Garrison (Sissy Spacek) receives a prank phone call. In his commentary, Stone discusses the decision to keep the character of Liz true to the blueprint of an early sixties homemaker. "We really felt politically correct is not the way to play these kinds of roles, I mean this is revisionism of the worst order and I see it in movies all the time".

Jim Garrison and the Colorado Businessman (9:10)

In this deleted scene based on an incident from On the Trail of the Assassins, a Denver businessman named Miller, who is supposedly interested in contributing to the investigation, approaches Garrison. Miller soon shocks Garrison by offering him an appointment to the federal bench in return for dropping his investigation. Garrison replies, "I haven't the remotest interest in becoming a federal judge". Stone's critics will find this statement debatable since Garrison did become a judge in 1978 and many believe that higher office was his ambition all along.

Beverly Oliver Interview (5:39)

Stone's commentary again dominates what is an extended scene. On the credibility of Oliver, he says, "A lot of people say she's full of shit and bla bla bla and it's easy to say that about people who live their lives in this fringe, you really can. Anybody who's done dope, anybody who's done something bad in their lives - you can be a blue nose and say how can you believe 'em… and then who you gonna have in court; who are gonna be your witnesses? They're all gonna be a bunch of pompous people who haven't lived a life. Through flaws people learn".

Toward the end of this scene, Stone comments on the meaning of his film; "God damn it's such a sad story this…JFK, because what really it's all about is redemption…it's about Kevin Costner looking to live the right life, to live the truth and to redeem himself by so doing and in the process he must destroy himself…".

Jean Hill Interview (2:43)

In this extension of a scene included in the director's cut, Jean Hill faces a second interrogator who resorts to bad language in his attempt to "break" the heroic Hill. He says to her, "We can put you in a mental institution. We can make you look as crazy as Marguerite Oswald, and everybody knows how crazy she is…". About Hill, Stone comments, "Jean Hill is an aggressive lady…actually chased one of the men".

Jim Garrison in the Book Depository (2:18)

In this scene, which is similar to one in the film, Garrison discusses concerns about the parade route and Secret Service protection with Lou Ivon. This segment goes a little further by actually showing (in Garrison's imagination) the assassin firing from the window accompanied by a man on a walkie-talkie. Commenting on dramatic license, Stone says, "Garrison never went to… Dealey Plaza that way. He went once to look at the storm pipe system…the idea of taking him up to the sixth floor and taking the shot was our screenplay idea by which he could live out this concept of imagining the assassination his way. …That's one of the liberties I took…".

Antoine's Restaurant – Oswald Information (4:29)

In this scene, where his staff briefs Garrison at a dinner meeting, Stone includes a dizzying amount of information. The scene is somewhat different from the one in the movie with the information presented weighted more toward aspects of the Russian community. The fight segment between Lee and Marina is expanded here and is much more intense than the Director's Cut version. We also briefly see Lee being interviewed in Russia by Priscilla Johnson, who Stone comments about on the film's main commentary track.

Clay Shaw Trial 1 – Oswald Information (1:55)

This brief scene features Garrison's closing argument (combined with flashbacks) and concerns Oswald's escape from the book depository. Stone comments, "There's the issue of how he got away. There's been a lot of problems on that one. Did he go away in a bus? Did he go away in a Rambler? … Roger Craig … saw definitely Oswald get into the white Rambler".

Clay Shaw Trial 2 – Oswald Information (3:32)

Garrison continues his speech to the jury and the capture of Oswald is shown. One interesting thing here is that the very busy Jack Ruby is shown as the camera pans toward Oswald's position in the theatre. This is certainly not the case in the Director's Cut, but Stone makes no comment about the change.

Stone does comment on a segment showing LBJ calling Will Fritz, "We take dramatic license with the high official, implying that it was probably Lyndon Johnson… This is based on some information that came to me at the time-not necessarily information as to be authenticated…".

Fantasy Sequence – Oswald from the Grave (3:22)

Lee Oswald (Gary Oldman) delivers a monologue from the New Orleans witness stand (interspersed with scenes from the Oswald and Kennedy funerals) in this admitted fantasy sequence. Stone says about the scene, which was done at Oldman's request, "…It turned into this beautiful monologue that he said really from the heart".

Alternate Ending (12:06)

Those hoping for a "different" ending will be somewhat disappointed by this outtake, which is really just a shorter version of the famous "Mr. X" scene. Stone had originally planned to have two scenes featuring "X" (Donald Sutherland). The first would have "X" meeting with Garrison near the middle of the film in a version similar to but shorter than the final cut. In the second scene, Garrison would meet "X" after the Shaw trial where "X" would fill in the missing parts of the story. In the end, Stone decided that a long scene after the verdict would be anti-climatic and not hold the attention of the audience. For that reason, he combined the two "X" scenes into one 17-minute version and placed it in the middle of the film. This alternate ending then is actually the second of the two original "X" scenes and shows Garrison a little grayer (the scene ostensibly takes place in 1970) while "X" is hatless and dressed casually as opposed to the suit and topcoat he sports in the final combined cut.


If you have been waiting to buy the DVD version of the film or have recently purchased a player, now is the time to get this special edition version with the added features. Stone's commentary and the relatively low price make the disc worthwhile even for those with the "old" DVD version. Stone's comments are frequently fascinating, sometimes informative, occasionally inaccurate and at times defensive and self-serving. Indeed, newcomers to the subject will do well to remember that this is a work of art and not an accurate representation of history. But one thing is clear: students of the assassination will certainly want this DVD in their collection, because in spite of one's personal opinion of Oliver Stone and his view of the world, he is a creative force to be reckoned with and his film is certainly the most thought provoking ever made on the JFK murder.

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