Saturday, December 27, 2008

Directors And Historians, Getting It Wrong

Richard David Boyle, writing about "Nixon" and "W" director Oliver Stone:
Roosevelt was crippled and could not walk, [and] John F. Kennedy had White House swimming pool orgies with his secretaries "Fiddle and Faddle." The press protected presidential secrets until Richard Nixon broke the law so openly, by ordering burglaries and destroying evidence, that occupiers of the Oval Office became fair game to people like Stone, who also directed the movie, "Nixon."
While I can't speak about Fiddle and Faddle, there's no proof Richard Nixon ordered either of the burglaries that destroyed his Presidency, though Boyle isn't the first journalist or historian to assert otherwise without any evidence. Respected historians Stanley Kutler and Rick Perlstein are among those whose sleight of hand with sources has earned them membership in the Non-Smoking Gun Club.

According to Boyle, Stone also reports that Bill Clinton told him that the unbearably pedantic "W" was "right on." How disappointing. I wonder how he'll feel when they make a movie about him sitting on the toilet. Here's my Oct. 31 review from The New Nixon:

In Oliver Stone's "W.," you can see George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) wipe himself after defecating. You see him eating constantly and showing hunks of food oozing between his teeth, spitting it at people as he talks, and nearly choking on a pretzel (true story). The constant sloppy drinking before he turns 40 goes without saying.

Stone and his writer mock Bush's faith, suggesting that he embraced Christianity after losing his race for the House so he wouldn't be "out-Texas'ed and out Christian'ed" again. They make up "Dallas"-like dialog between Bush and members of his family designed to show that he was jealous of his brother Jeb and obsessed with invading Iraq to show his father up as well as obtain his affection.

Everybody is a caricature except Laura ( Elizabeth Banks), the elder Bush (James Cromwell), and especially Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), shown strenuously resisting the Iraq War. Along among Bush's advisers -- Rice, Rumsfeld, and Rove are carefully rendered in cardboard -- Gen. Powell comes out of "W." smelling like a member of Barack Obama's cabinet.

And yet "W." isn't really about Bush at all. It's about the subterranean vein of bloodthirsty imperialism Oliver Stone identifies as an integral part of the American character. In "JFK," the darkness took the form of shadowy business interests whom Stone falsely said were behind the President's assassination (in which Stone disgustingly accuses Lyndon Johnson of complicity). In "Nixon," which didn't contain a single completely honest moment, the evil gremlins provoked the invasion of Cambodia.

In "W.", the third film in Stone's paranoid trilogy, the evil finally has a face. Dark America is personified as Dick Cheney, self-proclaimed architect of a new empire of oil. During a Dr. Strangelove turn in the situation room, Cheney tells the President and his aides that since the U.S., with five percent of the world's people, consumes a quarter of the world's energy, the obvious solution is an invasion of Iraq as a prelude to conquering Iran and colonizing the Middle East. "Good meeting," says Bush, who nonetheless is shown believing that there really are WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein's fall will bring democracy to the region.

As it may yet do. When Stone was making the movie and planning an autumn release, Iraq was going so poorly that everyone assumed it would dominate the election. It hasn't, both because of the economy and the success of Bush's policy over the last year. The Vietnam-obsessed Stone assumed Iraq was going the same direction as South Vietnam and Cambodia. As of now, it isn't. In this sense, W. looks smarter than "W."

As for Stone, now that he's made this mean, boring movie, 129 minutes of relentlessly detailed "Mother Jones" historical and policy analysis, maybe he'll do us and especially history a favor and lay off the Presidents. After all, no one will want to see Obama going to the bathroom while talking to his wife. Instead, Stone should use his vast influence to get Richard J. Barnett's early books back into print -- the ones about how the United States started the Cold War instead of the Soviet Union -- and finish out his career doing the work for which he was truly born: Teaching international relations at Sarah Lawrence.

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