On the night he was shot and killed in Dallas, John F. Kennedy was to have given a speech about the link between leadership and learning. Now, the actor who played the slain president in “Jackie” has brought the speech to life at a time it seems eerily urgent.
The speech — listed as “undelivered” in the archives of the JFK Library and Museum — was scheduled for the night of Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated. It was finally delivered last week by Caspar Phillipson, who played Kennedy in last year’s “Jackie.”
It is like like watching the former president returning from the grave to rebuke the man who has taken his office.
“America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality, and the plausible with the possible, will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to all the world problems,” says Phillipson, a Danish actor who looks and sounds uncannily like the American president.
It is impossible not to take the speech as a Hollywood critique of President Trump’s foreign policy.
“This link between leadership and learning is indispensable in world affairs,” says Phillipson. “Ignorance or misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security.
The words are similar to those conservative columnist George Will has used about Trump. Will said in a Washington Post column Wednesday: “It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”
The video, shot last week at a party for the COLCOA film festival at the home of “Grease” director Randal Kleiser, benefits from the full weight of Hollywood myth-making: a gorgeous score by Greg O’Connor swoons in the background. The lights of Los Angeles twinkle below. Kleiser directs, and weighed in on the dramatic, romantic and heartbreaking decision to turn the image to black and white as the would-be president speaks.
“We cannot expect that everyone will talk sense to the American people. But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense,” he says. “We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and in all time the ancient vision of peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Kennedy knew the power of a screen presence more than any president before him, and the use of his image testifies to his enduring political and emotional power — the fascination with what was and might have been. It feels both nostalgic and vital, real and unreal.