Sunday, June 19, 2005

Standing On An Oliver Stone Soapbox

Recently I rented The Doors (an Oliver Stone film about the band that I love) and I found myself very disappointed. Following my viewing of The Doors, I rented the new-ish film Alexander. I hated it. I began to wonder if this trend in my movie renting was a bad streak on my part or solely negative based on the work of the producer, director, and writer, Mr. Oliver Stone.

For several weeks this quote by Victor Davis Hansen has appeared atop Nick's Daily News website: "Ignorance and arrogance are a lethal combination. Nowhere do we see that more clearly among writers and performers who pontificate as historians when they know nothing about history." I have come to the inevitable conclusion that Stone fits this category.

Being the Kennedy nerd that I am, let me start there. JFK, when it came out in 1991, brought with it a great deal of controversy. Of course I was only six when it came out and missed out on the hoopla, but as I have looked into the TIME archives I found an interesting article written by Richard Corliss on the controversy of Stone's film. Having seen the film numerous times I concur with Corliss and not only do I completely agree with his statement that Stone "screams bloody murder for a living," I also agree that Stone is creating this "version" of the Kennedy assassination for his own satisfaction, not for the satisfaction of the viewer, the country, or even the studio. I appreciate the hero complex staged around the New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, I think of the "real" characters in the aftermath of the assassination, Garrison is worthy of respect, but Stone blows it. He adds a homosexual scenario between the characters played by Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joe Pesci that is not only improbable, but detracts from the underlying story. He also portrays the Dallas police force in a light that I didn't appreciate. He missed the mark as far as I am concerned. I own the movie for two reasons, Jim Garrison was the only attorney to hold a trial following the assassination of our nation's 35th president and there is something about the head shot to Kennedy as that disturbs me. I can't bring myself to believing the "magic bullet theory," either.

Next...Stone's Vietnam flicks. I absolutely detest Born on the Fourth of July. It gives a sometimes accurate depiction of the lives of the vets and the stuggles they encountered on their return from the war we didn't win, but historically it is very inaccurate. When I was a kid I truly believed, thanks to unknowing parents and films like that, that the United States did not win the Vietnam War, but we didn't lose it either. I thought that we "broke even" and the otherside was worse off than we were. Not true. We lost that war because our executive branch (over the span of three administrations) was too stubborn to accept the fact that we couldn't win. If there are others like me who also believed that at one time then I would find it safe to say that Stone's films, Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon were failures and detrimental to a country's understanding of history.

Oliver Stone has taken a stab at what some may call "political directing." There was a made for TV movie when I was in high school called The Day Reagan Was Shot. Factually incorrect and mostly an attempt at depicting the power inside the White House with Casper Weinberger, Donald Regan, and Alexander Haig. Stone completely overlooked what I think is the real tragedy in that circumstance...the shooting of James Brady. I love Brady and his wife, they have done more for gun control and cancer awareness than any of the former Reagan administration staffers, so I am biased, but nonetheless, I was disappointed with the circumstances of the Brady shooting being omitted or having less time allowed them.

Two more examples...The Doors and Nixon. For those of you who may have seen Stone's movie about one of my favorite bands, don't believe it for a second. I like honest bio-pics. I loved Ray even in its dark moments, but there is a difference in showing the darkside of a person like Ray Charles and showing a fictional side of a man like Jim Morrison. Morrison was immoral, an addict, and self-absorbed, BUT...he also was one of the greatest musicians of that time and was more talented than we can appreciate now. I find Morrison's words poetic, brilliant, and far more important than they were received. Oliver Stone told another story and one that had I not already been introduced to The Doors would have almost ruined my perception of and appreciation for them. He may have ruined a whole generation's view of the band, though I'd rather not give him too much credit for his mediocre story-telling abilities.

Nixon. There has been nothing more corrupt politically than Nixon White House. I realize that and expect to hear both sides of the story-- a human making mistakes and a monster walking all over the Constitution, but with a story so complex, controversial, and corrupt, what is the need to add more? My problem with Nixon is not the perspective Stone takes, it's the needless crap he adds to the storyline. Let history speak for itself!

At one point I thought that what Stone does was beneficial to viewers, allowing them to broaden their understanding and see different points of view, but as I read this LA Times article sent to me from a friend, I realized what Stone is doing is misinforming a public that needs to be aware of the history, the facts, the truth.
As Garrison says in JFK, "people are fundamentally suckers for the truth." If Stone really understood this, he wouldn't be thwarting the process and misleading the people. I believe that "what is past is prologue," but I also wonder how Stone can dedicate JFK "to the young in whose spirit the search for truth marches on" when he presents the young, like me, with a misconstrued version of actual events.

If I could say one thing to Mr. Stone I would say this... never underestimate or take for granted the influence one person can have over an impressionable mind. And NEVER think that history won't repeat itself. If we don't take history seriously, what choice will it have but to do so?

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