Friday, December 2, 2016


On Nov. 25, 1963, three days after becoming the world’s most famous widow, Jacqueline Kennedy slipped on a mourning veil. A diaphanous shroud reaching to her waist, it moved lightly as she walked behind her husband’s coffin in the cortege that traveled from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. The veil was transparent enough to reveal her pale face, though not entirely, ensuring that she was at once visible and obscured. “I don’t like to hear people say that I am poised and maintaining a good appearance,” she later said. “I am not a movie actress.”

Intensely affecting and insistently protean, the film “Jackie” is a reminder that for a time she was bigger than any star, bigger than Marilyn or Liz. She was the Widow — an embodiment of grief, symbol of strength, tower of dignity and, crucially, architect of brilliant political theater. Hers was also a spectacularly reproducible image. It’s no wonder that shortly after President John F. Kennedy died, Andy Warhol started on more than 300 portraits of the Widow, juxtaposing photographs of her taken before and after the assassination. She smiles in a few, in others she looks frozen (or is it stoic?); the ones that pop are tight close-ups. They look like frames for an unfinished motion picture.

“Jackie” doesn’t try to complete that impossible, apparently unfinishable movie, the never-ending epic known as “The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and What It Means to History.” Instead, set largely after his death, it explores the intersection of the private and the public while ruminating on the transformation of the past into myth. It also pulls off a nice representational coup because it proves that the problem known as the Movie Wife — you know her, the little lady hovering at the edge of both the frame and story — can be solved with thought and good filmmaking. And as in Warhol’s Jackie portraits, John F. Kennedy is somewhat of a bit player here.

Jack suaves in now and again, flashing his big teeth (he’s played by an uncanny look-alike, Caspar Phillipson), but as the film’s title announces, it’s all about her. Jackie (Natalie Portman, perfect) first appears at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. It’s soon after Jack’s death and she’s taken refuge in another white house, this one along Nantucket Sound. If its large windows suggest transparency, her tight face and coiled body relay that she has other plans for the unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup), who’s come to write about how she feels and what it means. In some roles, Ms. Portman stiffens up and never seems to get out of her head; in “Jackie” this works as a character trait.

The journalist is a chilly, unsympathetic fictional gloss on the writer Theodore H. White. On Nov. 29, 1963, one week after cradling her dying husband’s head in her lap, Mrs. Kennedy gave an interview to White that he said lasted about four hours. Originally titled “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” White’s article ran in Life magazine and was an exemplar of impressively marketable mythmaking — it inaugurated the Camelot fairy tale. White knew Kennedy, having written “The Making of the President, 1960,” an account of his presidential campaign. But the Widow was another matter entirely, and in his interview notes White scrawled the words “What does a woman think?” (...)

The White interview thrusts the story into the past, teleporting Jackie, for instance, onto Air Force One, where — with her back to the camera — she primps in a mirror while practicing an apparent speech in Spanish for the imminent Dallas trip. Dressed in her pink Chanel suit, she puts on her pillbox hat, as if ready for her entrance. The suit’s bright color gives the film a visual jolt, much like the deep-red roses that someone places in Jackie’s arms after she and Jack deplane. Some of the most famous photos from that day, like those of Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One, are in black and white, so it’s easy to miss that the smudges that later appeared on the pink suit were splatters of blood.

by Manohla Dargis, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Natalie Portman in "Jackie"