Cinema and Conspiracy: Executive Action

In my last blog, I analyzed the cinematographic and editing techniques used in Oliver Stone’s JFK to incite conspiracy in the minds of audiences. The next film I will be discussing attempts to stir the same emotions in regards to President Kennedy’s assassination, but in a different fashion.


Executive Action (Miller 1973) is one of several films about Kennedy’s assassination to emerge and is significant because of its release date: November 7, 1973 — almost ten years after the horrific event took place. The film was controversial upon its release because, like JFK, the filmmakers contest the Warren Commission Report. The structure of the film is like a documentary with creation of fictional events that appear to be recreations of actual events in preparation leading to the assassination. The film was removed from theatres mere weeks after its release.

I think Oliver Stone’s film is more effective in addressing the conspiracy for a number of reasons. First of all, JFK was released years later. The newness of the assassination, even in 1973, was still too fresh for American society. Stone also used historical footage to the betterment of his film. He pieced the footage together cleverly and recreated actual events to match the historical footage. David Miller used historical footage solely to show Ferguson, the oil mogul, as deeply agitated by Kennedy’s course of action. The difference between the films is Stone allows for the viewer to connect the dots themselves with the footage, whereas Miller has a figurehead to ignite the assassination.

Another key scene that weakens the film’s legitimacy and perhaps influenced its demise in the box office is the target practice scene. This scene is carefully edited to show various sharp shooters at an unmarked spot in Texas attempting to shoot a moving target below. I don’t know if it’s their hair or the film stock, but it screams 1970s and does not stand the test of time — but, that’s beside the point.

I apologize for the poor quality of the image.

I apologize for the poor quality of the image.

The visualization of the assassination via target practice is jarring because it is presented as proof, essentially. Part of what makes conspiracy is questioning the legitimacy of the evidence being shown and since the JFK case seems to have many “plot holes”, filling in those blanks with falsehoods is an ill way to prove a point. Shots from the 6th floor of the book depository seem more or less plausible when trees and people are blocking our view, as seen in the JFK dramatization of the shootings — it is the unseen that convinces the audience there may be something more than they are being led to believe. Miller’s use of a wide open space to show target practice makes his assertions seem less believable.

Despite its structural flaws, I enjoyed Executive Action because it was from the point of view of the conspirators rather than an investigation of the conspiracy. However, that could be the film’s greatest weakness since there are many conspiracies floating around. I recommend Executive Action simply for the comparison between the two films with similar conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. I imagine the film was groundbreaking for its time, but perhaps too serious for audiences to face.


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