A Filmmaker's Review: JFK - The Making of a Presidency (Netflix, 2017)
3/5 - Good, but rather second-hand...
JFK: The Making of a Presidency Review
This film took me by surprise because it is one of the first documentaries about JFK that I have watched that seems to have nothing to do with his untimely and brutal death. It was a documentary that shows us how JFK really became the JFK we know from the media and the person that we knew to be the POTUS, if only for a short time. We get to see inside his campaign and really see who was pulling the strings and teaching him the ropes. We get all the insights and the hows and whys are answered.
The first thing we start off with is JFK’s education and how he wasn’t actually a very good student at school because, well some children just don’t like being confined to a classroom. As a teacher who was also once a rather naughty student, not everyone is ‘good at school’ even though they may be good at subjects. This apparently includes a future POTUS in the making. JFK moved schools a couple of times and we get to see into the competition that JFK had when he was pitted against his elder brother, Joe Jr. This was all initiated by a rather over-bearing father, considered the patriarch of Camelot. He would force the children to compete with each other academically and socially. However, JFK proved not to be very good in battle from young age. Although you feel sorry for JFK, there is a certain amount of must evoked from the father’s position. The Kennedys are rich but not a part of the wealthy class as they are Catholic. So the father must teach his sons to be better than the rest.
When we move on to JFK’s university life, we get to see where he excels and the various things he will repeat in his presidency. First we have the sense that JFK likes being on site when things are happening rather than reading a textbook about it several years later. When we come to the war years, we see that JFK was actually just leaving Germany on the same day that Germany invaded Poland to start the second world war. He spend a lot of time in Europe and there was a sense that he was interested in the global stage of politics and world peace. When he comes to being the president, this will be repeated through his constant traveling around the country which will ultimately be the scene of his death in Texas.
We get to see JFK through a lens of various photographs and short videos from the beginning of the film. But, as soon as he married Jackie, we get to see the persona shift from ‘bachelor’ to ‘good looking married couple’ and ‘epitome of hard-working attractive American family’. We get to see a lot of magazine covers featuring the couple and sometimes, their children. This is to show us the various shifts in the way in which JFK was being viewed on the way to his presidency. Most of the magazines came out before he was POTUS.
The people we have talking on the documentary though, I considered sometimes a problem. There were a lot of academics and most of them were in fact, British. I find this very second hand information rather boring. When making a modernisation documentary, we prefer first hand evidence. JFK did not die that long ago and there are a ton of people who remember him, such as his children and his brother’s children. The fact that there were these posh British scholars talking about their research meant that even though the documentary is well made, it falls short when it comes to researching the family. Jackie herself only died some years back and there would have been people who remembered her very well still alive today. If this is a documentary about the making of the presidential persona of the Kennedys then we need to see people who were there and knew JFK and RFK rather than scholars who read about it.
In conclusion, overall it is a well made documentary with a great amount of information to take in about modernised presidential campaigns. But it also has its downfalls that make it rather disconnected.