On November 22, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the JFK assassination, filmmaker Errol Morris released his short film The Umbrella Man on the New York Times website (covered in earlier blog post). This film featured an interview with JFK assassination researcher Josiah “Tink” Thompson, who discussed a strange figure photographed in Dealey Plaza holding an umbrella as JFK’s motorcade passed by. Strange because it was a bright, sunny day with no forecast of rain, yet the man was standing under an open umbrella. Years later when the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted further investigations into the JFK assassination, a man named Louis Witt came forward claiming to be the Umbrella Man. He explained that the umbrella was a protest against the appeasement policies of the British government under Neville Chamberlain in dealing with Nazi Germany. JFK’s father Joseph P. Kennedy had been ambassador to Britain at the time and had supported appeasement. Neville Chamberlain was often photographed holding an umbrella so the umbrella symbolized appeasement. Convoluted reasoning to be sure, but Thompson thought it was just crazy enough to be true. He summarized his point as,
I read that and I thought this is just wacky enough it has to be true. And I take it to be true. What it means is, that if you have any fact which you think is really sinister. Right? is really obviously a fact which can only point to some sinister underpinning. Hey, forget it man, because you can never on your own think up all the non-sinister, perfectly valid explanations for that fact. A cautionary tale.
A few days ago, filmmaker Alex Cox responded to Errol Morris’s film with a short film of his own. Unlike the slick production of Errol Morris’s film, Alex Cox’s film has a much looser feel to it. He enters a room and begins talking as he kicks off his shoes. The film is just Alex Cox giving an unscripted (?) monologue addressing points Josiah Thompson makes in Errol Morris’s film. He points out that the theory Thompson dismisses in Morris’s film about the umbrella being a weapon may well have been true. He also makes the point that the Umbrella Man did not act as Louis Witt described his behavior on the day of the assassination. The Umbrella Man was standing next to “the dark-complected man” and, Cox asserts, “the pair of them were up to something.”
Alex Cox called this film Case Not Closed: The Umbrella Man, a response not only to Errol Morris but also to Gerald Posner, author of the book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, which argues that Oswald acted alone in the killing of John F. Kennedy. Cox promises to make more short films in the coming months leading up to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. He also used the opportunity to promote is new book about the JFK assassination The President and the Provocateur: The Parallel Lives of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. Alex Cox, of course, is the filmmaker who made Repo Man in 1984.
MILLER: A lot of people don’t realize what’s going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I’ll give you an example. Show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, somebody’ll say like, plate, or shrimp, or plate of shrimp. Out of the blue. No explanation. No point looking for one either. It’s all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.
OTTO: Did you do a lot of acid, Miller? Back in the hippie days?