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Jackie & the Myths we Create

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Last night, after some evening Christmas shopping for my in-laws and dinner at Eataly’s Pesce (Salmon with gremolata for me, pasta with lobster for him, and anchovy toast for us both) we hopped uptown to City Cinemas to catch Jackie.

It was an impeccable film in every single way. The interiors, fashion, styles and manners on display are swoon-worthy even in the midst of the tragic story that unfolds, but that tragedy is undeniably the core of the film- amplified by Jackie’s dignified and devastating reaction to her husband’s death. The film is also framed by Jackie Kennedy’s interview with Life Magazine a week after her death, wherein she describes the president’s love for the musical based on the novel, which featured the line, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” She goes on to say “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot,” a pivotal association that has symbolized their administration forever.


A few ideas that have stayed with me after watching:

One, just how young she was, both when she entered the White House as First Lady at 31, and at 34 when JFK was assassinated. Her poise, as the film shows so artfully, is something she both consciously worked on and practiced in some instances (practicing speeches on Air Force One), and one that tears through in others (when she orders the arrangements of the funeral and snaps at the Life reporter to tell her story as she demands it is told). It was a reminder to me that at my relatively youthful age there is little excuse not to match such poise, and that infinite strength lies within what we see as even the shallowest of wells.

Second, I was utterly taken by her love for history and beauty; her first major project as First Lady was to restore the White House and track down, piece by piece, original items of historical significance befitting it.  Prior to the Kennedy years, departing presidents took these items with them after their time in the White House, leaving it barren of the objects that comprised its legacy. Jackie Kennedy privately raised the funds to restore the space and its collection, and lobbied that these furnishings and items of interest be retained as property of the Smithsonian to ensure their continuity in the home. There is much said in the film about this being the house of Lincoln, and that the space should reflect the great men that reside in it. It made me particularly sad to envisage the future of this great home and its inhabitants, and the detriment to our country’s wonderful legacy.

On a more personal note, it’s worth acknowledging that prior to raising these funds for the restoration, Jackie tore through her initial budget of $50,000 – in concert with her society decorator Sister Parish- in a matter of days; something which was not very appreciated by her husband. This is a recurring theme in the film and made me laugh because I can relate to the boundless desire to surround myself with beautiful things, and said disappointment of my significant other. But it is worth noting in both cases that both JFK and my own dear husband always come around when they see the finished product; I always knew the latter was pretty presidential!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of both Jackie Kennedy and the film is the idea that we create the mythology that surrounds us. Glamorous, traditional, Motherly, Royal – or Modern, Feisty, and Independent. Kennedy modeled her husband’s funeral after Abraham Lincoln’s, and in doing so cemented John Fitzgerald Kennedy as one of this country’s great men. Lady Jeanne Campbell acknowledged as much in the London Evening Standard, noting, “Jacqueline Kennedy has given the American people…one thing they have always lacked: Majesty.”  As my husband noted when we stepped out of the theatre “I had no idea that these images cemented in our minds- John John saluting his father’s casket, and the procession to his grave, were so expertly created by Jackie herself.” Nor had I. Perhaps the most interesting idea of all is that that fact does not diminish the power of the visual that it created, and the feeling it engendered even decades later.

In the end, it’s a powerful portrait of the potential for a young woman to move mountains, and cement her family’s place in history. And it is a rather sad portrait on an America that once was, and one that we may never recoup.

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