Austin Film Festival: 61 Bullets

The Kingfish, the doctor, and the doubters

Austin Film Festival: 61 Bullets

Louisiana’s infamous Governor Huey P. Long, as divisive a figure in American politics as ever lived, was assassinated by Dr. Carl Weiss on September 8, 1935. At least that’s what the textbooks say. The truth, it turns out, is a lot murkier.

Louisiana Kreutz and David Modigliani’s incisive documentary calls into question the official record via a wealth of interviews with Dr. Weiss’ progeny, especially his son, Dr. Carl Weiss Jr., who gets a chance to tell his family’s side of the story for the first time. You can’t help but come away from 61 Bullets — the title refers to the number of shots fired by Long’s bodyguards during the Louisiana Capitol Building melee — feeling that there were, indeed, some dark doings in the corridors of power that day. Long, a firebrand populist who paved his state’s previously dirt-and-mud roadways, gave out free textbooks to the impoverished, and would most likely align himself with the Tea Party today, was just as well-known for using brawn and political clout whenever his charitable acts and eloquent speechifying failed. It was no secret that plenty of people wanted Long dead — he had his eye on the White House, after all.

But Dr. Weiss, who for reasons still unknown, apparently confronted the Governor on September 8 and reportedly shot the bearish Long in the stomach. Long held on for some 72 hours, but Weiss went down in a hail of lead, so much so that when the doctor’s body was exhumed in the 1990s, the lead dropping from his mummified corpse sounded “like rain falling on a tin roof,” according to Weiss, Jr.

61 Bullets has plenty to offer as evidence that Weiss Sr., was simply a victim of being, for whatever reason, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s long been suspected that Long’s own security detail, sensing the winds of change, turned their own sidearms on the governor. The truth, it becomes clear, is impossible to know since those same bodyguards refused to show up in court for a full eight days after the shooting, plenty of time for them to get their stories straight … if. Similarly fishy are the facts that Long was hastily buried without an autopsy and his surviving family has consistently denied approval for an exhumation that could provide clues as to what type of bullet, exactly, killed the man.

Was it all the king’s men that did the dastardly deed? Filmmakers Kreutz and Modigliani, as well as the Long and the Weiss families, acknowledge that the full story may never be revealed. But that’s not the real point of 61 Bullets. Whether it’s John F. Kennedy or Huey P. Long, it’s often wiser to question the State’s official explanation than to swallow it whole and move on. Some people, after all, don’t have that luxury.

61 Bullets screens Wednesday, Oct. 29. 7pm, Galaxy Highland Theater

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Austin Film Festival 2014, 61 Bullets, Huey P. Long, Dr. Carl Weiss, Louisiana Kreutz, David Modigliani, AFF 2014

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