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Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

Posted by martinteller on February 16, 2013

In June, 1963, Governor George Wallace vowed to block the entrance of two black students — Vivian Malone and James Hood — to the University of Alabama if they tried to register.  As the day approaches, this film observes Wallace, Malone and Hood… as well as President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy as they try to map out a strategy for dealing with Wallace.

Director/producer Robert Drew and his crew (including D.A. Pennebaker) have a remarkable level of access, having earned Kennedy’s trust during the making of an earlier documentary, Primary.  It’s hard to believe we’re actually watching the Kennedys discuss whether it’s better to push Wallace out of the way or pick him up.  It’s a fascinating document, packing a lot into 53 minutes.  Issues of morality, race, law, strategy, jurisdiction, politics.  It’s a tense battle of right vs. wrong, of people trying to move a nation forward being challenged by bigotry and fear of change.  Giant figures of American political history made real and human.

Despite the title, the film doesn’t feature JFK that much.  It focuses mainly on Bobby and his deputy Nicholas Katzenbach.  What we see of Wallace — making small-minded speeches, shaking hands with fellow bigots, looking smug — only reinforces the fact that he was a reprehensible sonofabitch (see also: Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls).  But he seems perfectly game to let the cameras follow him, and is given the chance to speak his mind.  I would have liked to have seen a little more of Malone and Hood, who strike me as brave and bright young people.

A riveting piece of cinema vérité (with some narration).  This would make a fine double-feature with A Time for Burning.  Rating: Great (90)


3 Responses to “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment”

  1. John said

    First I have heard of this. Sounds interesting. One to add to the to watchlist. Great review

  2. […] new discovery:  Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (honorable mention: Anzukko, In Vanda’s Room) Worst new discovery: […]

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