The television mini-series used to constitute a major event. At one time, they captured large audiences and during the early Eighties, the mini-series format enjoyed quite a boon in popularity. One benefit of the mini-series was that its length allowed for an unprecedented amount of detail and character development. Historical stories and biographies could be told with such meticulous care, that it became the method of choice of delivering such a tale. In 1983, Martin Sheen took the role of John F. Kennedy, one of the most fabled and magical figures in American politics. His life was a major focal point of the American public. Whatever he did and said captured the ear of the American public. It was quite a shock when the man that was adored by millions was assassinated for millions to see.
A great deal of care is taken to reproduce the people and events of the Kennedy administration in the mini-series aptly titled “Kennedy.” Martin Sheen had a similar likeness to the former American president and his acting skills allow him to become the former president, eerily reproducing JFKs speech and mannerisms. For his performance, Sheen was nominated for a Golden Globe. Another even more stunning likeness is Blair Brown’s portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy. It would take a very astute eye to notice differences between the actress and the real former first lady. Every detail, down to the costumes have been recreated for this miniseries.
“Kennedy” follows the story of JFK from the hours before his presidency up until his funeral. The anticipation on the eve of his victory of Nixon takes up a large portion of the mini-series first part. The involvement his father Joe (E.G. Marshall) had with the campaign and his brother Bobby’s (John Shea) initial rejection of JFKs offer to be Attorney General is described and shown intricately. There have been many films made about JFK, his brother and the events of his presidency, but I cannot remember any other attempt to show his dependency upon his brother and the importance he placed upon the Kennedy family to be part of his presidency. The mini-series lays all of this out, but does so in a manner that does not this exposition too overbearing or cumbersome.
J. Edgar Hoover’s (Vincent Gardenia) dislike of the Kennedy brothers is another focal point of the mini-series. Hoover was quite an unusual character in American history. His story alone would make for a spectacular mini-series. He was a man that resented heterosexual relations and particularly hated JFK because of his womanizing ways. Hoover tried very hard to expose Bobby and Jack Kennedy to keep them from gaining control of the White House. He was frustrated by the inability to pin down information on Bobby Kennedy, but he had a wealth of information on JFK. His role in the Kennedy campaign is detailed, and also provides some very low-key comedy relief because of the great performance by Gardenia to bring life to this unusual and different man who was the director of the FBI.
The womanizing that made Kennedy so notorious is shown in the film. One of his mistresses is handled exclusively and wiretaps and other intelligence means that are used by Hoover to expose JFK are detailed and touched over. Bobby’s constant conversations with his brother about giving up on his wild ways are also a focal point of “Kennedy.” Perhaps the most famous rumored mistress of Kennedy was Marilyn Monroe. It may disappoint some to mention that she is only spoken of in conversation. There is no Monroe character in the mini-series and she is passed over in less than a minute of time in this five-hour epic.
Kennedy’s last days in Dallas are touched upon in “Kennedy.” What was most surprising and interesting about the mini-series take on this event was the focus on Jackie Kennedy’s reaction and handling of her husband’s death. This is another good example of the character development and detail that can be achieved with a five-hour film and Jackie Kennedy is always glossed over in films about the assassination of JFK. There was nothing really established about the actual assassination of JFK, and this was welcome, given the great number of films already made about the topic. The series is wrapped up in a manner befitting the story and in a tone that has the viewer feel sorrow for the man and his family.
The “Kennedy” mini-series offered a personal look at the man known as JFK and events both personally and professionally during the Kennedy presidency. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs and his assassination are placed against the birth of his children, his wife’s miscarriage and his father’s stroke. While the mini-series does not take either a pro- or anti-Kennedy stance, it does strive to show you more of the man and asks for empathy to the Kennedy presidency and for his loss. It does not strive to be just a documentary or case study, but it attempts and succeeds at being a well-acted drama that is easily the most comprehensive and compelling look ever at John F. Kennedy, the man and the president.
“Kennedy” is nearing twenty years in age. The full frame transfer shows its age a bit. I have a feeling, much of this was done by design to give the look that it was documentary footage from the Kennedy era. The main feature and its supplements run for about six and a half hours. The first disc contains parts one and two, each spread across a layer. The second disc contains part three on one layer and the supplemental materials on another layer. The full frame image requires a good deal of compression, and during some moments, the aged picture exhibits a few compression artifacts. Film grain is also common, but again, may have been by design. The colors are purposely desaturated. The picture falls on the soft side of the fence, which shows no harsh edges but lacks a bit in detail.
The soundtrack for “Kennedy” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The majority of the film is dialogue driven. A few gunshots ring up here and there. A motorcade or two allows some engines to rumble. For the most part, sound effects are few and far between. The picture is truly dialogue driven and the DVD delivers speech that sounds intelligible. At times, the audio is meant to sound older, and matches up nicely with the picture. For what content is meant to be delivered, the DVD is effective. The stereo soundtrack doesn’t have a ton of life, but was not meant to be.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston Massachusetts has offered some very nice documentary footage of President Kennedy. The DVD packaging claims that some of it has never before been seen. The footage varies in content, but focuses on either Kennedy or the events that helped shape his presidency. The total running time for these documentaries is about 75 minutes. The documentaries really add another dimension to the mini-series and are about as fitting a supplement as I could imagine for this disc. These supplements alone could have been sold as a DVD.
“The Inaugural Address” shows Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech and offers a nice comparison piece to test the level of detail of the mini-series versus the actual events. The mini-series proves to be extremely accurate in this test.
“One Week In October” is a Department of Defense video that was supposed to be used as a public address film for the American public during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was never before used, and is on display on this DVD for the first time.
“One Day In Berlin” contains segments of Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. It is not the complete speech, but contains enough of the speech to give a good feeling of the entire mood and content of the speech. The final supplement is an interesting look at
“The Last Two Days” of JFKs life. It details the various stops Kennedy made before he traveled at eleven miles an hour past the famous grassy knoll. It touches over Kennedy’s assassination and features footage from that horrendous event. What is most upsetting watching this was the general good mood Kennedy and everybody was in when he was killed. He went out on top and this short shows that.
The mini-series format has become a rarity in today’s world where entertainment has become a larger industry than ever before. With its demise, the amount of depth and insight that a film like “Kennedy” is able to deliver has also been lost. “Kennedy” is the definitive look at the man known as JFK and the mythos that was once his presidency. The key successes and failures he had as a man and a president are laid out for all to see. His womanizing and love of his family are contrasted from one scene to the next. Martin Sheen and Blair Brown are perfect as Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Watching this mini-series will require almost seven hours of a commitment to view the feature and important supplements, but it is seven hours that surely would not have been wasted.