In 1997, The House of Yes debuted at Sundance. Its star Parker Posey―diva of independent cinema―deservedly won a special jury prize for her role as “Jackie O.” (Spoiler Alert: Freddy Prinze Jr is also actually good in this movie…hang on, Tori Spelling is better!) A comedy built around the cultural impact of the Kennedy Assassination, the controversial House of Yes is set outside Washington DC on the night before Thanksgiving. A storm rages outside. Marty and his new fiancé arrive to announce their engagement and join his twin sister, mother, and dim-witted little brother inside for the family holiday dinner. As the Kennedy assassination as well as the twins’ incest occurred and are commemorated during the Thanksgiving holiday season, we are in for a discomforting night before their equally unsettling holiday celebration. Think Kennedy meets Addams Family.
This esoteric black comedy undoubtedly would meet distribution as well as audience challenges today. And like movie taste, movie expectations, and the Thanksgiving family holiday, the film festival circuit that introduced it has also changed. Sundance has evolved from festival screenings to commercial launch pad. At the Sundance Film Festival this year, bids were record highs with Netflix and Amazon’s streaming demands now a consideration in play. Fox Searchlight broke records securing distribution rights for $17.5 million (almost double their record offer of around $9 million last year) in that bidding war. Sundance is Big Business today; deals are frantically brokered and as highly reported.
Film Festivals have now become part of the “Red Carpet Circuit.” What wins at Tribeca, surprises at Toronto, and dominates at Berlin Festivals foreshadows “Award Season” and of course, the granddaddy of all hype, the Oscars. Recently at the Venice Film Festival, the most beautiful city in the world, the discussion on the Lido was not about the exquisite Tintorettos of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco or the knock-out Becerin at Café Florian’s; it was about Pablo Larrain’s first English language film, Jackie. Another Kennedy movie. But the first film specifically about Jackie Kennedy—and her place in history.
Jackie is neither based on credited sources nor does it claim to be. Instead it is the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s study of this—and here we can actually use the mantra blurted constantly without any basis whatsoever at red carpet coverage—“iconic” woman and the fabled 1000 days of the Kennedy Presidency. This movie is built around two historic media events: Jackie Kennedy’s ground-breaking, televised 1961 White House tour and her marathon, four-hour interview at Mrs. Kennedy’s invitation with Theodore White (played by Billy Crudup as an unnamed reporter) one week after the assassination. The movie is about the Camelot Era, specifically concentrating on the aftermath of JFK’s assassination in Dallas. There is already Oscar buzz about this film, mostly Oscar buzz about star Natalie Portman.
Several Christmases ago, a friend gave me Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books. The book hits pay dirt as early as the introductory note that explains his referring to his subject as “Jackie” is not based on the author’s intimacy with her, but rather his realization that this is the study of a woman who was more than either Mrs. John Kennedy or Mrs. Aristotle Onassis…I propose we expand these and include more than prominent socialite Jacqueline Bouvier as well. William Kuhn’s book creates a vivid portrait of “Jackie” through her work as editor—specifically her aesthetic, research, and taste in selecting and managing her projects. Focusing on her editing career also illuminates her dedication to guard her privacy while as carefully to construct her public persona.
More recently I received a black-and-white postcard of the 1963 Kennedy motorcade from the 6th Floor of the Dallas Book Depository that now houses the museum that records the Kennedy Assassination. The card made clear to me that in the half century passed, this gruesome historical event is ironically the historical legacy of that glamorous Camelot Era.
The bond among those who experienced the November 22, 1963 assassination of JFK on the Friday before Thanksgiving—“I can still remember the world stopped…Midterms…Thanksgiving… ” has inevitably diminished. Time has now distanced the event from all of us. Devastated national idealism has become societal disillusionment. Done deal. The anecdote describing a college kid at 1991’s JFK, snapping at a middle-aged couple seated behind him discussing the Kennedy assassination, “thanks…now you ruined the ending for me” is now apocryphal.
Consequently, just as we all have to question how much of Kennedy’s “Camelot” ever really existed, we can only surmise Jackie Kennedy’s role in inventing Camelot history. And so, reception to this new film–and the enigmatic woman it presents–will be both timely and thought-provoking.