Sunday, January 13, 2013

Nightcap 1/13/13 Oliver Stone's TV History is useless plus a look at some recent films

I know I covered something similar back in November but with the series pretty much done I have to revisit Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States since the problems I saw back then have only gotten worse. Actually in thinking about it well after what follows I realized that Stone basically commits the same sin he is trying to correct with the series, which is give a historical foundation as to how we got to the current now, yes Stone tells us what happened, but he doesn’t tell us completely what lead up to it. (This is not the case with his companion book, which is fine, all my negative comments relate to thte TV series)

I’m extremely disappointed with Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States TV series. After a very good first three episodes the series has slid more and more into irrelevance. In all honesty the series (but not the companion book) ultimately is worthless.

The problem is not that Stone tells us anything wrong (for the most part), the problem is that in trying to cover the 60 years that follow the first three episodes he is reduced to simply going through events at speed. Its: this happened and this happened and these people were connected to that and they did this and if only we hadn’t done this that would have happened but instead …. There is no background. There are no details, events just are. Worse because Stone isn’t giving us details, or the required back stories, he is forced to tell us what things mean. He tells us what people thought and felt with nothing to back it up. The result is utterly worthless supposition because he can’t give us the full facts.

Actually Stone’s narration is the real problem here. Less factual history then historical essay Stone is constantly whining, and I do mean whining, that not only has America sold out it’s ideals, but “if only it had done x, y or z things would have been different”. Perhaps, but at the same time supposing a long line of “if onlys” isn’t history, its guessing and assumes that Stone knows how the ten million other factors operating outside of the one what if would have allowed it to happen. Everyone of Stone’s if only statements would work assuming that they would have happened in a perfect, far from corrupt world that was as he imagined it to be...and that aany of his other what if's hadn't happened.

As much as I like Stone, and as much as I think his take on most of the events is right (or at least in the ballpark- except on his views of the communists), he’s way too intelligent to be this lily white an idealist. The world doesn’t work like this, it never has, and Stone’s premise or implied assumption that it suddenly became corrupt is a fanciful as the idea of the Greatest Generation that he loves to make fun of. What America is is not what it holds itself out to be, and it never was. Yes it became more cynical after World War 2, but it was never the bed or roses Stone’s series would have us believe it was.

To be honest the one thing that is glaringly wrong historically with Stone’s series is that how he views antagonists like the Soviets he’s a little too soft on them. Stone takes the path where the Soviets, and Stalin were not bad guys and that had we only treated them as buddies the world would have been ducky, despite facts showing the brutality and insanity of Stalin and others to their own people(including as to how they seized power). Actually Stone’s view of any event outside of America is painfully simplistic and doesn’t take into account the complexity of the history of any country we interact with…and it assumes they are all nice guys until we came to call. Things are not that simple nor as nice.

How off base do I think Stone is? My dad hates when I watch the series and he’s in the room because I’m constantly screaming at the series about things he missed, didn’t take into account or misread. Viewing the second half of the series has been one long pained scream at the TV. It’s not a history, it’s an  essay, and a flawed one at that and shouldn’t be taken as anything other than the most basic of starting points. This shouldn't be billed as a history.

Thankfully Stone has released a huge companion volume to the series. Covering the history of the US from roughly 1900 until today the book is full of facts and figures that are completely missing from the series. It’s a better introduction to Stone and his co-writer Peter Kuznick take on American history.

Is it perfect? No. It still suffers from a kind of tunnelvision regarding events, it doesn’t fully take into account larger global forces at work and it assumes that some parties had no hidden agendas, but at the same time there are the facts and figures to back up their view of history. I can accept Stone’s view of history more easily based on what I’ve read in the book than  I can based on what is shown in the series. Is it perfect, no, but it does give one food for thought.

In the end skip the series and read the book.

And now  off the soap box....

The Oscar nominated Wreck it Ralph is a wonderful film about trying to find and be one's self despite being labeled. The need to find one's self is a battle that raged with in me recently and leaked out with the shift from DB to Steve. The film  follows Ralph, a villain in a classic video game as he tries to become a good guy. Jumping games in order to win a medal, he sets in motion a series of events that threatens to shut down the arcade where he lives.. Clever witty and full of riffs on games and popular culture (Iron Giant anyone?)  the film was one of the better animated films from 2012.

Goya or the Hard Way to Enlightenment is an East German film about the painter that played the recent See it in 70mm series at Lincoln Center. I had a ticket for New Years day but missed the train so I went home and dug out my DVD copy of the film. To be honest I was mostly bored with the film. Much of the first 90 minutes has Goya romancing women, and getting into some court intrigue. I did like the opening montage and the wrestling with the prince, but most of the rest was rather static. About 90 minutes in as Goya goes out amongst the populous the film suddenly and unexpectedly springs to life with lots of images from his paintings and a sense of motion to the film and the story. Yes the story was as fragmented as before but it was oddly alive. If only the first third was that alive it might have been more than an okay film

The Collection is the sequel to The Collector. The survivor of the earlier film is blackmailed into taking a team into the Collector's booby trapped warehouse. The film is aping to be the next Saw, and in a twisted sort of a way it kind of succeeds. Sick twisted traps and images abound. A macabre performance art is created that is worth seeing if you like well done death traps, but let's get real there is no logic and reason to carry over to a sequel.  I really liked it in a form over content way and recommend it as such (but be warned it is gory)

This is 40 is Judd Apatow's best film, but I've never really cared for any of his other films so that's not really a recommendation. The film follows a couple as they hit the 40 year age mark. Its a realistic look at getting older, but it's polished to such a perfect sheen none of it feels real. yes I laughed and related, but at the same time this people are better off than most of my friends so their lives are just a tad easier than my friends, Its amusing play acting.

Coming up this week a a bunch of long gestating reviews, many are months old and one was sitting in the cue going back to 2010.

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