JFK by Oliver Stone - A Hollywood Biopic?

Term Paper, 2005

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Hollywood Biopic
2.1. Genre
2.2. Characteristics of a biopic

3. JFK by Oliver Stone
3.1. Summary
3.2. General facts
3.3. Characteristics of JFK
3.3.1. Directorial characteristics
3.3.2. The intention

4. Analysis
4.1. First impression
4.2. Comparison: the film JFK and the biopic
4.2.1. Same characteristics
4.2.2. Differences
4.3. Conclusion

5. Synopsis and outlook

6. Bibliography

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

This term paper preoccupies the question if the film JFK by Oliver Stone is a Hollywood biopic.

JFK is one of the most interesting Hollywood films which never loses its actuality because the case Kennedy is still unsolved up to now. In search of a qualified biographical film and topic, time and again discrepancies emerge with regard to the film JFK to be a biographical picture or not. Some sources list the film to be a biopic others do not. Because of that the interesting and still unanswered question, if the film can be defined as a Hollywood biopic, became the main consideration of this paper.

First of all the terms JFK and the Hollywood biopic are explained separately. The different facts and characteristics are investigated on several levels which are direction, content and intention. Furthermore a definition of the term genre and a summery of the film JFK are supplemented in order to understand the different levels of investigation better. The emphasis is on a comparison of the characteristics of the two objects and as a result follows a conclusion.

2. The Hollywood Biopic

2.1. Genre

At first it is important to know what the term genre means. In the cinematic sector genre stands for a group of films which have the same characteristics and can be categorized through their filmic elements. These characteristics can be on geographical, chronological, dramatical or on production technical level. It does not matter which elements they have in common, but it is important that they resemble in at least one or more characteristics. A genre is “a term for any group of motion picture which express similar stylistic, thematic, and structural interests”[1].

There are numerous narrative film genres: the western film [...], the gangster film ,

the musical film , [...] ‘Genre’ is also used to distinguish other film classes such as

the documentary , the experimental film , and the animated film .[2]

Today there are more than 775 genres and it is very hard to differentiate them because many directors combine several categories to achieve a lager number of viewers. The more genres are put in one place the greater audience is addressed. That is why it is difficult to call the biographical film an independent genre because it often crosses over between different genres. The person, the film gives us a closer look at, is not fixed to one specific category. It can be a political leader, a famous sport star, a criminal or a musician. Therefore a film can be a biopic but it can also be a action or gangster film. There are a plenty of these film genres, some belong to the classical main genres e.g. comedy, gangster film, horror film, drama, musical film, western, but there are also so called sub-genres . Sub-genres are “sub-classes of the larger film genre, with their own distinctive subject matter, style, formulas, and iconography”.[3] In a motion picture it is very rarely that a biopic appears as a sole, independent genre. Hence it follows that the biographical picture can be define as sub-genres of larger, e.g. epic or drama films.

2.2. Characteristics of a biopic

A biopic is a filmed biography. The term derived from the words biography and pictures and it is often used as a colloquial term. The combination of both words lead to the term biographical picture. A biopic is a film about the life of a particular, real living person (or a group) of the past or present era with fictionalized elements. A biopic often gives statements about American society in critical parameters.

A motion picture based on the life of a public figure, most commonly an individual struggling

to achieve goals against considerable odds or to recover from major setback [...][4]

Not every biopic deals with the whole biography, in such a way, that the film starts with the birth and ends with the death of the particular person. There are many biopics which simply underline the major achievements in their life.

In many cases these films put an emphasis on the largest events (wartime, political or social

conditions) surrounding the person’s entire life as they rise to fame and glory.[5]

From 1930 to 1940 the biographical film was very popular in America, especially in Hollywood. At this specific period of time many public personalities worked “on behalf of the public good”.[6] Consequently Warner Brothers produced many biopics because of their “inspirational value”.[7] Every famous person who is represented in a biopic has an extraordinary personality and achieved much in his life. Therefore it is not surprising that “common characteristics of the biographical film are heroic elements of determination and personal courage”[8] The biographical film aim to make a person more accessible to the viewers. That means to show his lifestyle, character, achievements or defeats. The film does not present one single sphere of life, e.g. the persons career, but it shows several different spheres, e.g. private life, partnership or interests. These extensive impressions help the viewer to get a better insight into the personals life and


3. JFK by Oliver Stone

3.1. Summary

The film JFK by Oliver Stone deals with the description of the assassination of president Kennedy, from the Warren- Reports point of view, and arguments which speak against it. John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, is shot dead in Dallas in the state of Texas on November 22nd in 1963. The Warren- Commission investigates the murder and comes prompt to the conclusion that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), an individual culprit, and file away the case. Three years later the district attorney

of New Orleans, Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), stumbles accidentally on this affair and notices many discrepancies and contradictions within the Warren- Report. Because of that Garrison decides to find out the truth and reopens the case although he meets with stiff opposition. In the course of his investigation he notices that the Warren- Commission worked very sloppy and superficial. Furthermore he notices weighty mistakes in the presentation of the evidences. On the one hand his conversation with his informant Mr. X (Donald Sutherland) and when on the other hand a video recording of the deed appears it becomes clear that there is something strange going on. Garrison is in doubts about the theory of a lonely murderer and in his opinion Oswald cannot be blamed for the assassination. Suddenly witnesses disappear in mysterious ways. Slowly Garrison comes to the believe that this all concerns a conspiracy at government top level. His possibilities of presumed culprits range from the Mafia to exile Cubans, Secret Service, CIA and finally to the White House in Washington D.C.. Garrison is sure that they wanted Kennedy to get rid of because of his intention of a disarmament policy in Vietnam. Garrison searches for a way to publish his conspiracy-theory and decide to bring a charge of the men who are really responsible. He supposes the businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) to be one of the man behind the conspiracy and decides to take him to court. In the trial Garrison presents the results of his investigation and scandalized the audience with his conspiracy theory. At the end Clay Shaw is exonerated from any participation of the deed but Garrison promises that he does not stop until America and its citizens hear the whole truth.


[1] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of Film Terms , (1983), p. 142

[2] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of Film Terms , (1983), p. 142

[3] Filmsite: genres, http://www.filmsite.org/genres.html , (09/01/2004), p. 1

[4] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of film Terms , (1983). P. 34

[5] Filmsite: biopics, http://www.filmsite.org/biopics.html , (09/01/2004), p. 1

[6] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of film terms , (1983), p. 34

[7] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of film terms , (1983), p. 34

[8] Frank Eugene Beaver, Dictionary of film terms , (1983), p. 34

Excerpt out of 14 pages


JFK by Oliver Stone - A Hollywood Biopic?
University of Duisburg-Essen
The Hollywood Biopic
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
508 KB
Jon F. Kenneddy, JFK, Oliver Stone, Stone, Biopic, Biographical Picture, Film, Movie
Quote paper
Katrin Appenzeller (Author), 2005, JFK by Oliver Stone - A Hollywood Biopic?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/125647


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