I have a rather conflicting relationship with the work of Oliver Stone. Certainly there’s a lot to admire from his contributions to cinema and naturally, to his country, which nearly cost him his life. Irregardless of one’s own political affiliations, one cannot say that Oliver Stone hasn’t done his duty. I have seen many of his films more than once: from the deeply underrated Talk Radio to the highly questionable yet fascinating Shakespearean biopic Nixon. I’m not ashamed to admit that I also have a particular fondness for the gonzo madness that is Natural Born Killers. There’s a special kind energy in many of his (note: earlier) films: a sense of social outrage about the state of the world, psychological unease, creeping demons that keep lurking from our subconscious. Tones swift from blackly comic, melodramatic and the disturbingly violent.
In my teens I often saw Oliver Stone as the voice of reason. A necessary contrarian, similar to the spirits of Bill Hicks, a squeegee of my third-eye. Someone who wakes you up from long slumber, telling you: ”get up! You are being screwed!” I remember vividly defending Oliver Stone’s JFK and its conspiratorial allegations to an ex-girlfriend of mine. In my regular smug moments, I called her naive and felt myself enlightened for believing the exciting lies of Oliver Stone’s infamous film.
This all changed in my mid-twenties, when I (finally) started taking history more seriously. And when it came to historical accuracy, his films were as farcical as any Hollywood patriotic Michael Baye Jerk-fest. Well-intentioned perhaps, more than often than not beautifully made, but its artistic license on history cannot not be denied.
In his later career, Oliver Stone’s movies have not been exactly critical darlings and for good reason. His big budgeted Alexander biopic was hampered by a not-so-great Colin Farrell and an annoyingly over the top Angelina Jolie. His sequel on Wall Street (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps) was a frustratingly dull one, with none of the bite you would think it would have considering it came out after the financial crisis of 2008)- no clearer film shows the decline of Stone’s artistry. His biopic on George W. Bush was strangely forgettable even with a great central performance of Josh Brolin. His adaptation on Don Winslow’s Savages finally ended my faith in anything good coming from Stone. The book had been one of my favorite crime novels and Stone absolutely butchered it.
But through all of his he also made some curious documentaries. There is his short documentary mini-series The Untold history of the United States, which had some questionable tales about its central subject. In my opinion, a man that likes to play so loosely on the history should not make documentaries.
His most curious documentaries were his documented interviews with the likes of Fidel Castro (Comandante) and Hugo Chavez (Mi Amigo Chavez). In both these films, we see a more humanized looks on these controversial leaders. Oliver Stone wishes to share the alternative view to American-exceptionalism, which is an admirable position. But his coziness with these leaders, his willingness to believe their side of the stories, despite the countless tragedies and death surrounding them, makes it hard for me to take him seriously. I’m not if he cares about revealing the failed dream of the American Dream, it seems that he just wants to further his controversial persona.
The upcoming four-hour Showtime documentary: The Putin Interviews, is simply despicable. It shattered whatever illusions I had about him. Oliver Stone’s verbal rationale with this project does not bode well either: ”It’s not a documentary as much as a question and answer session… It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,”
Is he really that naive? For a man that loved to unveil the masks of the authoritarian evils, he surely does not seem to understand the ways of despots. Does he really think Putin cares about spreading spreading his message to the West? It’s about sending a message, it’s about distorting the truth, it’s about causing as much confusion to the general populace of the East and West as possible. The more he bends the truth, the longer he can reign.
Oliver Stone is only aiding him as it will undoubtedly convince many people that perhaps, Putin is an morally equal among the political establishment. The teaser trailer of the documentary is infuriating in itself: Putin winking knowingly at the camera, as he’s teasing the more enlightened audience that yes, he’s going to get away with this and many people, smart and dumb alike, will be fooled by this. It ends with Oliver Stone asking him point-blank about why hacked the American election, with Putin’s response being a charming smirk. This is a crime and now it has become a show. Good job Oliver.
Undoubtedly this documentary will be just another fluff-piece for the Russian despot. It will make him look equal and respectable to the eyes of his own people, many of them lost in his state propaganda. Many curious in the Western world, will undoubtedly be charmed by his forward rhetoric just as many were charmed by his American presidential ally. It doesn’t matter if you ask him ‘the hard questions’, Putin will have prepared for anything that comes with his way and will use some exceptional ‘whataboutism’s. This is not his first rodeo, he’s not Sean Spicer: he actually knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing this game for a long time. Remember: he was KGB, they are trained in all manner of deceit. Some articles have compared this to the David Frost interview with Richard Nixon. Unlike the charming stage play or Ron Howard”s film suggest: it was not a battle of wits, Nixon had carefully prepared the whole thing so it could be done in his favour as he wanted to humanize his already tarnished persona. Apparantly the irony of many seem to be lost on this fact.
This is the hard truth: you cannot engage a tyrant like Putin, the same way you do any other politician. Seeing as he’s already the biggest political superstar in the world (next to that other goofy bastard currently in the White House), this will only further his excruciating anti-establishment persona.
If Oliver Stone really cared anything at all about combattng the evil forces of this world; he wouldn’t give Putin some prosperous propagandistic ammo. Maybe like much of Oliver Stone’s work, he means well and he really does want to give another perspective or harmonize the current Geo-political frictions. Or maybe he just doesn’t care. Maybe he’s just a media whore. Could very well be. Just another sad tale of one of your former heroes.
It will certainly boast great ratings and yes, I’ll probably watch it. But I won’t be fooled, I can promise you that.
But i’m afraid that many others will…