Neal Gabler, a guy writing a glowing book about Ted Kennedy, has taken offense to the movie Chappaquiddick.
This gobbler needs fisking.
Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the most famous members of America’s most famous family, understood that he belonged as much to popular culture as to political culture. Now, nine years after his death, comes a movie about the event that, almost as much as the circumstances of his birth, established him in the tabloid pantheon: Chappaquiddick.
TABLOID????? You’re kidding, right? How about POLICE BLOTTER pantheon? You make it seem like Ted’s night with Mary Jo ended with her being shuffled off on a ferry, leaking Teddy juice, never to be called again, only to have the entire night surface after Mary Jo contacted The National Enquirer.
The film, by the same name, opened Friday and retells the story of an accident
in July 1969, on the titular Massachusetts island near Martha’s Vineyard, in which Mr. Kennedy drove off a bridge, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign worker for his late brother Robert. It has been heavily promoted by conservative media outlets, and reviewers across the political spectrum have praised what they deem its damning but factual approach. Damning it is; factual it is not.
Yes it is.
Let’s set aside the fact that, despite the film’s advertisements claiming to tell the “untold true story” of a “cover-up,” the story has been told plenty, and no one but the most lunatic conspiracy theorists see this as anything but a tragic accident in which nothing much was covered up.
Allow me to be loony. Married Ted Kennedy was drunk with a young single girl, speeding in his car, flipped it into a pond, got out and passed several places with their lights on and walked back to the party in order to get advice from his cousin and lawyer. They told him to call the police. They went back to the car and discussed what to do. Again they told Ted to call the police. He said he would and left. He didn’t. He established an alibi in Edgartown and then walked around town as if nothing happened, with no neck problems, until he was confronted by his lawyer and cousin who told him if he didn’t alert the police they would.
He then turned himself in.
What did I, the lunatic, get wrong?
Let’s also put aside the skein of conjecture and outright fabrication that the film unspools — in one scene Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, murmurs “alibi” to his son, like a Mafia don, when in fact he was so debilitated by a stroke that he could only babble incoherently.
Whether Joe Kennedy babbled alibi or not doesn’t change the damning facts of the case. Had the moviemakers left this out of the movie, what would you be left with? Would you declare that the coffee they were drinking wasn’t actually the Kennedy’s favorite brand?
Setting all this aside, the movie nevertheless raises a serious issue.
The serious issue of powerful elites getting away with stuff others would never be able to walk away from?
What is the relationship of fact to fiction, of the historical to the histrionic in art and entertainment?
You mean like books that laud a drunken killer? That kind of relationship of fact and fiction?
Ted Kennedy was a real man living out a real life.
Part of which should have been behind bars.
His political opponents could and did distort that life for their advantage.
But just how many liberties can an artist or entertainer take when he or she deploys a biographical subject?
We’ll see in your upcoming biography of Teddy.
Many scenes cross from dramatic interpretation to outright character assassination.
No one but the most lunatic conspiracy theorists can claim that Ted Kennedy had character.
In this version, the Kennedy character leaves Kopechne to die as she gasps for air,
and then, with the aid of his brothers’ old advisers, cooks up a scheme to salvage his presidential ambitions.
A more callow, cunning, cowardly and self-interested yet moronic figure you couldn’t find.
That’s your Teddy Boy!
His first words after the accident are: “I’m not going to be president.”
I think those were his first words as the Oldsmobile was flipping into the pond.
Obviously, an artist isn’t saddled with the same obligations to fact that a biographer or historian is.
Yes, I am positive you are saddling yourself with the truth in this new biography.
We accept artists appropriating lives and altering them. But we also expect an artistically valid justification for bending the truth, and sensationalism isn’t one of them.
What do you think of the neck brace? Was that bending the truth or sensationalism?
Biographical novels like “I, Claudius” or “Wolf Hall” put historical figures in the service of larger themes about the human condition. The novelist Joyce Carol Oates attempted to do that with Chappaquiddick in her novel “Black Water,” a roman à clef and a meditation on male power and female vulnerability.
Most artists understand how thin the line between art and gossip
Kopechne’s death was gossip. Gotcha.
can be when one deals with real-life figures in semi-fictional contexts, which is why most artists wait until those figures pass into what seems like “public domain” — ceasing to exist as particularized people we know from the news and assuming larger cultural proportions that turn them into characters we don’t fully know.
Uh huh. Wasn’t there a movie about Obama while he was STILL PRESIDENT?? Do your rules only apply if the movie is about leftists shown in a negative light? Would you be writing this essay for the Times if a movie about Stormy Daniels was quickly made for Lifetime? I doubt it?
Ted Kennedy has not passed into the public domain in this sense,
I’m just glad he passed.
so one tampers with his life at the peril of turning it into tawdry melodrama.
You say tomato, I say TRUTH ABOUT A VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTERER.
This is especially true of the Kennedy family, who remain politically active, and divisive.
Not for long.
Contrary to the film’s implications, Mr. Kennedy immediately and forever after felt deep remorse
About not becoming president.
and responsibility for the accident; it haunted him.
I heard he loved Chappaquiddick jokes.
By the end of his life, however, the then white-maned senator had managed to transcend celebrity and emotional paralysis
What was that you said about tawdry melodrama?
and become what he had long aspired to be:
A politically powerful fuckmeister.
an indispensable legislator whose achievements included the 18-year-old vote, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
He wasn’t part of the Fresh Air Fund?
His was a large-life, tragic and multidimensional figure,
and it could have made, and perhaps someday will make, for an expansive novel or film about sin and redemption.
“Chappaquiddick” is not that movie. Instead of excavating Kennedy for larger artistic aims, it eviscerates him for narrow voyeuristic ones.
You say tomato, I say the facts of the vehicular manslaughter.
But this is about more than Ted Kennedy’s legacy. It is a case study in how society collectively shapes its own history.
Yes. History has recorded that Ted Kennedy was a scumbag who got karmic brain cancer, decades too late.
It is not merely, or even mainly, the realm of historians.
Because historical figures pass out of history and into popular culture, and because that process is accelerating, these figures are increasingly defined by popular culture. Artists and especially entertainers may not feel obligations to their subjects, but they do have responsibilities to us, one of which is honesty.
You are dishonest.
Fake history is no better than fake news; it’s maybe worse. It is very possible that over time, through the osmosis of social media, the despicable Kennedy of this movie will eradicate the honorable if flawed real one.
HONORABLE??????????? You found the one word Ted Kennedy cannot be described by. Kudos.
At one point in the film, Ted Sorensen, one of John Kennedy’s closest advisers, tells Mr. Kennedy, “History usually has the final word in these things.” It’s meant to be a comforting thought, to say that the truth will come out in the end. Watching “Chappaquiddick,” it’s not clear that’s true.
Oh, it be true.