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50th Anniversary of JFK Assassination
Remind Me

Faces of November

Faces of November (1963) , created for ABC News, was not the first film director Robert Drew made about President John F. Kennedy. When the then Senator from Massachusetts was running for President in the 1960 election, Drew shot a documentary that would become Primary (1960). Three years later, Drew proposed a film to the now President Kennedy that would illustrate how a crisis was faced by a sitting president. Kennedy was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, musing that he would have loved to have seen how President Franklin D. Roosevelt had handled the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Kennedy, the crisis would come in June 1963 when African-American students tried to attend the University of Alabama. Governor George Wallace attempted to prevent the students from registering and attending classes and a standoff occurred, with Drew and his team in Washington and Alabama to document both sides of the argument. That film, Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) was released in October 1963. One month later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. When Kennedy's state funeral took place over three days, from November 23 to November 25,1963, Drew and his camera crew, consisting of James Lipscomb, Sidney Reichman and Al Wertheimer were there to record the event. The result was a haunting eleven-minute short film called Faces of November (1963).

It is a film without a definite narrative and a film without dialogue, yet their absence does not diminish its power. Faces of November begins with a shot of a bare tree, starkly black against a pale grey sky; an undeniable metaphor for death. Drew then cuts to fallen leaves on a wet sidewalk and pans up to reveal the front of the White House; the flag at half-staff for the fallen Commander-in-Chief. The rotunda of the Capitol Building shows the covered catafalque that held President Lincoln's coffin nearly one hundred years before, and upon which Kennedy's coffin would soon lie, at the request of the First Lady. Day transitions into rainy night; the tears of a grieving nation.

The following day, we see the preparations for the funeral - made evident by the passing of the empty horse-drawn caisson that will soon carry the President's body through the streets. The funeral begins and the crowds watch, grim-faced. It is here that we see the "faces of November" - the veiled woman crossing herself, a close-up of an African-American solider blinking back tears as he and his fellow servicemen march. It is a study in grief.

During the service, actor Peter Lawford stands next to Bobby Kennedy, tenderly stroking the hair of a little girl, whose face is buried in his stomach. The First Lady speaks to her daughter and then we see what everyone is looking at - the President's flag-draped coffin. Fifty years later, despite the fact that it is in black-and-white and lacks dialogue or commentary, it is difficult not to be moved by Faces of November . Drew and his team managed to take the emotions of a time that many of us have only read about in history books, and make them very real.

The power of this film was not lost on the judges of the Venice Film Festival; they made Faces of November the first film to win prizes in the theatrical short film (The San Giorgio Statuette) and television (The Plaque Lion St. Mark) categories.

By Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES: The Internet Movie Database Saunders, David Documentary O'Connell, P.J. Robert Drew and the Development of Cinema Verite in America