Sixty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Alan Govenar’s latest documentary, Down in Dallas Town, charts people’s memory of that tragic day. The past is remembered and preserved not just by memory but by stories, music, photographs, and archival footage, passed down from generation to generation, preventing history (and the study of history) from being forgotten. Through interviews with photographers, authors, musicians, and people who remember that tragic day or were physically there when it happened, Govenar takes a deep dive into the effects that Kennedy’s assassination had on the past and present.
The movie begins with an eyewitness account of Kennedy’s assassination. From the utilization of speeches, photographs, and eyewitness accounts, Govenar authentically captures the essence of Kennedy and the widespread panic of the murder, which left an indelible mark on society, history, and politics. The murder remains a topic of discussion, with some people perpetuating and swapping conspiracy theories to this day. The interviewees here, however, are more concerned about preserving the memory of Kennedy and his beliefs.
“…begins with an eyewitness account of Kennedy’s assassination…more concerned about preserving the memory of Kennedy and his beliefs.”
The first interviewee is Brian Wallis, who claims that the assassination had a major influence on photography in that the ones to photograph the murder comprehensively were simply there as observers. This beginning segment leads into the introduction of Mary Ann Moorman, whose Polaroid photograph of that day is one of the most vital photographs of the 20th century. Govenar unearths great insight into that day by getting Moorman’s account, which is imbued with so much detail and raw emotion.
However, Govenar doesn’t just focus on the importance of photography in documenting history. Given that in Kennedy’s inaugural speech (which the filmmaker shows in increments), poverty is a major talking point, the filmmaker looks at the current state of poverty. Gerald Williams and Alisa Flores are interviewed throughout about their experiences with homelessness. They both talk openly about their struggles, although their scenes are often cut short. Still, that doesn’t make their perseverance any less inspiring.
In addition to photography being a medium to preserve history, music is just as effective. Over the course of the movie, the filmmaker inserts blues, norteño, and gospel music from back then that revolved around Kennedy’s memory and death. There’s a whole section on the birth of the record “Can’t Keep from Crying: Topical Blues on the Death of President Kennedy,” effectively building upon the idea that music is another way to remember the past.
Down in Dallas Town is an illuminating documentary that delves into the memory of Kennedy, the art of photography and music, the struggles of homelessness, and the prevalence of gun violence. While not every topic is extensively explored, the mixture of perspectives makes for a riveting and emotionally powerful experience.
For more information about Down in Dallas Town, visit the First Run Features website.
"…riveting and emotionally powerful..."