We live in a fine time for conspiracy theorists, in at least a couple of senses. First and more broadly, given the power of the internet, they’ve never had closer at hand the semi-incriminating, half-hidden pieces of information on which they build and with which they bolster their suspicions. Nor have they ever had a more effective means of gathering and discussing their findings. Second and more specifically, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has come upon us. This has set all those fascinated by that grim historical event, from the soberest of skeptics to the sheerest paranoiacs, evaluating and re-evaluating it even more thoroughly than usual. Above you’ll find the short November 22, 1963 by Errol Morris, a clear-eyed documentarian and interviewer fascinated not only with those who conspire and those who theorize about such conspiracies, but also with the grander implicit questions about what we know and what we don’t, what we can know and what we can’t, and whether we even know what we can and can’t know in the first place. (The title of his new feature-length documentary about Donald Rumsfeld: The Unknown Known.)
“The more you investigate a crime, the more it becomes crystal-clear what happened,” says Josiah “Tink” Thompson, scholar of Søren Kierkegaard, private detective, and author of Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro-Study of the Kennedy Assassination (a book with which anyone who has seen Richard Linklater’s Slacker will already feel some familiarity). “I don’t think any other crime I know of in history has been investigated with the kind of intensity that this has. And yet I don’t think we get any closer to knowing what happened now than we were 40, 45 years ago.” This opens a discussion of how all the photographic evidence of 11/22/63, up to and including the awesomely scrutinized Zapruder film, bears on the matter. “Is there a lesson to be learned?” Morris asks. “Yes, to never give up trying to uncover the truth. Despite all the difficulties, what happened in Dallas happened in one way rather than another. It may have been hopelessly obscured, but it was not obliterated.” And just as November 22, 1963 follows up The Umbrella Man, Morris’ previous piece with Thompson, Thompson has a sequel of his own in the works: a book called Last Seconds in Dallas. JFK assassination nuts — and I mean that in the nicest way — have their reading ahead of them.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.