“Down in Dallas Town,” a documentary by Alan Govenar, illustrates how public memory has shifted since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated here 60 years ago, recently opened in NYC. Govenar is an award-winning writer, photographer, poet, playwright, and documentary filmmaker. He is also director of Documentary Arts, a nonprofit he founded “to advance essential perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures.”
Those of us who lived in Dallas in 1963, no matter how young we were, have perhaps been over-exposed to so much of the information in the documentary. The poignant memories of a young woman, Mary Ann Moorman, who took a Polaroid photo that showed the exact instant Kennedy was hit in the head as the motorcade passed by Dealy Plaza, is the most interesting part of the documentary. She returned to the site some 50 years later, and shares her recollections of being accidentally thrown into the spotlight by the tragic event.
Mary Ann Moorman Memories
Interviews with Moorman and others who witnessed the events of Nov. 22, 1963, along with recordings by little-known musicians lamenting the loss of their President, were the best parts of the documentary. Snippets of songs recorded by artists from a variety of musical backgrounds, ranging from Blues to Calypso to Gospel, are featured. I would have liked to hear more of those. It was especially emotional to see local actor R. Bruce Elliott and his late mom, Dorothy Elliott, sitting together at her piano as she played while he sang from the music she wrote after the assassination in her hometown.
Stirring words and flashbacks to speeches by President Kennedy are also profoundly effective. But Govenar’s attempts to tie the assassination into such issues as synthetic drugs, gun violence, homelessness, and poverty don’t seem the right fit for this documentary.
Govenar is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of more than thirty books, including Boccaccio in the Berkshires, Paradise in the Smallest Thing, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Untold Glory, Texas Blues, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Everyday Music, Texas in Paris, and A Pillow on the Ocean of Time. His book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter won First Place in the New York Book FestIval (Children’s Non-Fiction), a Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor; and an Orbis Pictus Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English. Govenar’s film, Stoney Knows How, based on his book about Old School tattoo artist Leonard St. Clair, was selected as an Outstanding Film of the Year by the London Film Festival.
His documentaries The Beat Hotel, Master Qi and the Monkey King, You Don’t Need Feet to Dance, TaMoo Uprising, Extraordinary Ordinary People, Myth of a Colorblind France, and Looking for Home are distributed by First Run Features. Govenar’s theatrical works include the musicals Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues, Blind Lemon Blues, Lonesome Blues (with Akin Babatundé), Texas in Paris, and Stompin’ at the Savoy.
“Down in Dallas Town” is written by Alan Govenar and Jason Johnson-Spinos, with cinematography by Govenar who also directed the 73-minute documentary. The documentary was recently screened in NYC and at the historic Texas Theatre in Dallas.