Monday, November 28, 2011

Oliver Stone's Alexander:The original Cut- The commentary

Oliver Stone's Alexander has at least three known versions The 0riginal (out on DVD as the Director's Cut), The recut "Theatrical" version (or are they reversed?) and then a "final" cut Revisited. The original cut opened overseas before it was released in the US and it was crucified by many critics. Stone went back to the editing table and recut the film for US release. Several years later Stone revisited the film yet again and made more changes.

Way back when I heard that Stone was going to recut the film and that the original cut may not have been available in the US I purchased a Korean special edition with bells and whistles and extras (really cool insert books and cards). The film also came with a great commentary track that is Stone and Robin Lane Fox who is Fellow at New College at Oxford. He's the one who does most of the talking during the three hour film.

The film itself, in any of the versions, isn't bad. Yes, some pieces are better in some versions and are weaker in others. I'm not going to make comparison since thats not the point of this entry. Just know that the film is a messy film that is nowhere near as bad as some critics would have you believe.

The film is the story of Alexander the Great told in flashback by someone who knew him. It hits all of the high points and gives you a taste of what his life was like.

If you listen to the commentary to the original cut (which is on the US Directors Cut release) you'll be amazed at how much they got right. As Robin Lane Fox comments repeatedly the critics who were claiming that the film is historically inaccurate either don't know their history or are inferring about things and events that we know nothing about.

Honestly listening to the commentary track is a history lesson and then some. Where Stone provides a solo commentary on the first recut of the film, this first time out Stone is eerily silent as he lets Fox talk for pretty much the entire time. You wouldn't believe all that is covered over the three hours. We get not only the history but talk of the hows and whys of the script and we get stories about the shooting of the film.

If you ever wanted to know what goes into compressing a historical event into a manageable film this is the place to go. For example toward the end of Alexander's march into India his troops mutinied wanting to just go home. Actually they mutinied several times and while Stone took heat for not dealing with the multiple mutinies it's pointed out that each mutiny was essentially a replay of the same event until Alexander finally gave in and agreed to go home.

It's also pointed out repeatedly that the film is not supposed to be a historical document, rather it's the telling of a story based on history. It wouldn't be possible to do a fully historically accurate portrait of Alexander simply because there is too much we don't know and there is too much to tell even in three hours.

Oliver Stone is of course no stranger to the historical accuracy controversy. Both his film JFK and Nixon took heavy heat from critics and historians who argued that Stone got it wrong. amazingly Stone fought back by publishing the screenplays for both films in an annotated form. Despite what his detractors have said Stone was extremely accurate in what he wrote giving detailed references to what he did with the material and why. Most importantly Stone argues that both films, like Alexander, are not supposed to be taken as straight history, rather they are stories that use history to get a point across. If you're using films, JFK in particular, as a text book you're going to run into trouble since that was never Stone's intention, rather it was a debate on the issues raised in the story.

I love the commentary on this disc. Its the sort of thing that truly deepens the experience of seeing a film. So many Commentaries are a waste of time with simple recounting of how things were shot and what was going on, and none of it really getting to the meat and potatoes of the issues behind what is being discussed in the film. The commentary for Alexander takes the step, if fills in holes and expands one's understanding and is the sort of thing you'll listen to more than once, even if you don't watch the film.

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