Monday, November 22, 2010

Wall of Heroes: Oliver Stone

To take a page from the Hollywood Saloon, I thought I'd build my own Wall of Heroes. Brick by brick.

Whenever Oliver Stone steps into the ring, you know you're not gonna leave without a few bruises. Or at least that's what it's been like up until Nixon. He's always one to throw in that sucker punch and follow it up with a flurry of haymakers. The problem though, is that his work from Alexander thru Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn't a knockout punch so much as a jab to the gut. After seeing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I left the theatre with a feeling of emptiness. Was I entertained for the duration? Yes. He even employed his visually inventive camerawork. But the overall vibe just did not click. Blue Horseshoe did not love Wall Street 2.

All this aside, Stone is never one to step back from a controversial topic. Just look at JFK for proof of that. Employing macrocuts, historical footage, Super 8, black & white. It's a cubistic style that always keeps me on my toes. Following JFK, something happened with Stone. All the peyote & mesculine he must have been taking payed off in the form of Natural Born Killers. I remember the first time seeing NBK and having it knock me on my ass, for lack of a better word. It basically took what I thought were to be rules of cinema and blasted them out of a double barrel shotgun. Super 8? Animation? & the editing! I was wayleighed from all directions.

Looking at his body of work, one can assess that he is a filmmaker/historian. There are people that are content with having history dictated to them by a director like Oliver Stone. So, allow me to look at an even bigger picture at hand: history on film. According to a 1947 letter in Sight and Sound magazine: As far back as 1915, D.W. Griffith, director of Birth of A Nation imagined the day that citizens would obtain much of their knowledge of the past by watching movies. He also believed that movies' values in presenting stories about the past that had a greater emotional and intellectual impact on audiences than did the descriptions presented in traditional ways. Finally, Griffith, maintained that intelligently designed and well-researched films could give audiences authentic pictures of history.

History is, if anything, a look at events from multiple perspectives. & despite Stone's attempt to depict clashing viewpoints throughout JFK, it ends up funneling out to one viewpoint by the end. As witnessed in the 40 minute court scene. Presenting history from an objective standpoint is futile. A 100% accurate presentation of history is impossible because there is no single truth to uncover. There is no correct interepretation; therefore all historical explanations are constructed. Stone realizes this and takes that knowledge and infuses it with his own aesthetic.

To the average person today who sees Platoon, they base their knowledge off films moreso than actual history. As I've said before, the power of the medium allows us to go to the movies, see a Platoon and feel what it could be like in Vietnam. To go back to JFK, there are people who believe the film to be true. Others think it's crap. What Stone set out to do was make a companion piece to the Warren Commission. As far as the history vs. film debate goes, I lay in the middle. Film may not be able to view the past in the fashion of a textbook, but it does serve as a means to historical thinking.

JFK is a film that's safely secure in my top 20 favorite films and one I always find new things in. Like other procedurals, Zodiac & The Insider, it shows one man's complete obssession with finding out the truth. Even though Stone's work in the last decade is not up to par with his 80's/90's work, I still feel this fighter has a few more knockout rounds left in him.

1 comment:

  1. We both know how I felt about Wall Street 2 - but his earlier work, minus NBK & The Doors, is pretty good. Though, I wouldn't say he's a fave of mine.