Robert Drew, who had directed the document PRIMARY during the 1960 election, was asked to make a film about President Kennedy's funeral and given carte blanche. He begins and ends with standard symbols of death and mourning: gunfire and bare trees in the November sleet. It is four minutes before the first human is seen. He is leading a riderless black horse and the other props of the cortège.
After that we see faces of people trying to hold in their grief. Even the military honor guard loses their self-control. The president's widow keeps herself under control as she walks to the coffin and kneels before it, but there is a terrifying moment of grief as she rises.
Drew used old, almost antique, commonplace techniques in showing grief. If you look at FUNERAL OF PRESIDENT MCKINLEY from 1901, you can see the same techniques at work. They work here, too, because that is who we are.
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