The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the 40th anniversary of which is remembered today, was the first historical moment that had any kind of resonance with me. There remain only fragments of it: plopped on my familys living-room floor while my family, including my Massachusetts-born father, watched the news coverage. I knew something bad had happened, and I think I remember it being Kennedys murder, but mostly something bad. But the more vivid memory came days later, on our way down to South Florida for a summer vacation, when my dad lost it and yelled at us in the back seat while we were playing with each other. His anger and grief had overcome him. That emotion resonates and stays with a person over the years.
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Thats history for you, especially when youre young. Sometimes you only remember swatches of moments, and images. Four decades on, RFK seems to live on in a variety of those swatches. Like his speeches, whether on the campaign trail or after Martin Luther King Jr.s assassination, in which he did his level best to tamp down on the violence sure to come
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Kennedy, like his brother John, has endured a rather spotty interpretation on film (but for the excellent American Experience documentary). He was portrayed with surprising timidity by Linus Roache in the 2002 TV movie, RFK, which failed to capture but a lick of his charisma and depth of feeling. My favorite portrayal comes from Martin Sheen, who at various times has portrayed both brothers but was brilliant in the 1974 TV movie The Missiles of October, about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. (I can barely remember how Steven Culp portrayed him in Thirteen Days, which was more a vehicle for Kevin Costner as a presidential aide than anything else.) Last year brought us RFK Must Die! The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy, which raises new questions about whether Sirhan B. Sirhan (still serving a life sentence in a California prison) actually pulled the trigger.
Im a little embarrassed that I still have yet to see Emilio Estevezs 2006 film, Bobby, about the people and events surrounding the assassination at the Ambassador Hotel, minutes after RFK had clinched the California primary and seemed the presumptive Democratic nominee. Reviews of the film ranged from tepid to negative, but there are some interesting scenes from the movie, mainly because theyre so deftly inter-spliced with real images of and words by RFK, including this clip.
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The anniversary, of course, comes just a few weeks after Hillary Clintons bizarro rationale for remaining in the Democratic primary race, evoking his assassination in June to show how, hey, anything can happen in this wacky political world! Watching that clip, today, makes it even more creepy than when she first uttered her words.
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