Oliver Stone

Savages is trashy, vulgar, preposterous, cruel—and maybe the most interesting and entertaining film Oliver Stone has made since Nixon. What more do you want when the country is burning, gridlocked, and practicing ballet on the brink? Don’t say the movies lack instincts about where we’re headed.

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Voluminous

The oldest book in my library was published in 1538. It is Sefer Hasidim, or The Book of the Pious, the first edition, from Bologna, of the vast trove of precepts and stories, at once severe and wild, of the Jewish pietists of Germany in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Next to it, and towering over it, which is as it should be, stands Moreh Nevuchim, or The Guide of the Perplexed, the handsome Bragadin edition from Venice in 1551.

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This is not my title. It's one that Ronald Radosh, a scrupulous and brave historian of the political culture of modern American history, has put on his Wall Street Journal essay about Oliver Stone's new venture in trashing our own past by ritual adoration of the iconic tyrants who bring unbelievable suffering to their subjects. The documentary--well, it's not really a documentary--is called "South of the Border," and its co-author, Tariq Ali, a Pakistani writer of agit-prop whom fools call a scholar, admits basically that it is propaganda.

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You may, or should, be familiar with Todd Gitlin's terrific book "The Sixties." It turns out he also has a lot of fascinating observations about the 70's as well: Bad ideas traveled fast without even the benefit of the Internet. Heavy drugs helped (though Nixon didn’t seem to need anything more than alcohol). Conspiracy theories spawned theories of who benefited from conspiracy theories. There was gold at the end of Gravity’s Rainbow. Even Oliver Stone was not necessary. For example, Wheen notes, “It was A Clockwork Orange which convinced [Arthur] Bremer that he must shoot George Wallac

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And Showtime is about to present, in a ten-part miniseries, Oliver Stone’s “Secret History of America.” Don’t you wonder why, if Stone (and Michael Moore, for that matter) is right about the evils of capitalism, an enormous capitalist corporation has produced--and will now show--what is, almost by self-advertisement, a nutcase reconstruction of the American past, focusing on its enemies, who he seems to think have been traduced by historians? Someone named Jackson Creswell, from a website called Collider, seems to think that Stone “revel[s] in political controversy ...

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Worth Reading

China takes key step in internationalising its currency. A look at China's statistical creativity. Chart of the Day: % of economists who like fiscal policy improves since March. Switzerland tops U.S. as most competitive economy. Oliver Stone on "Wall Street 2" and second chances. Tuition at some Ivy League schools tops $50,000.

W.--Lionsgate Stages--Lemming Film Oliver Stone is, for me, the most adventurous and exciting American director of his time. Struck by some of our era's soul-chilling events and forces, he has seized them with electrifying art. No other American director has so consistently explored large political and social ravages of the day. This is not a matter of civic duty. Stone's best films are, in complex and helpful ways, discomforts. His new film, W., is about George W. Bush. Among his major films, two have also been on presidential subjects.

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Two Suburbs

The two leading actors in The Upside of Anger are so good that their performances, even more than the story they are in, keep us interested. Kevin Costner, who has played baseball stars, here is an ex-baseball star. His character, Denny Davies, has some resemblance to Jack Nicholson's ex-astronaut in Terms of Endearment: a man who peaked early in fame and income. Denny is now exploiting his past as a radio personality. Drinking fairly steadily with booze as both anesthetic and fuel, pleasant and tolerant, he is faced with the problem of living out the rest of his life.

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Terror and Television

The speed at which popular culture now dramatizes actual events is extraordinary. I'm not sure whether a movie was made about Kennedy's assassination not long after the event, but it was decades before a film appeared that portrayed Kennedy's murder with real provocative detachment, Oliver Stone's tendentious JFK. Two years later Hollywood finally applied itself big-time to the Holocaust with Schindler's List. There were previous Holocaust films, obviously; but Hollywood gigantism in the treatment of the subject had to await Steven Spielberg.

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Citizen Cain

The massacre at Columbine High School in April brought a flood of agonized responses. The whole country was sickened--yet again--by teenage mayhem, which didn't end with Columbine High. Causes for these horrors are being sought, and high among the suspected causes is the abhorrent film and TV violence now gorged on by teenagers. It is certainly hard to believe that so much slavering murder on large and small screens is not affecting adolescent fantasies. But I have been worried by the broom-sweep in some of the comment.

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