Wakeup Cinema: Oliver Stone

Article excerpt

Wakeup Cinema: Oliver Stone Frank Beaver. Oliver Stone: Wakeup Cinema. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. 243 pages. $15.95 paper.

Frank Beaver, the author of Oliver Stone: Wakeup Cinema, is Arthur F. Thurnau professor of communication and chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Michigan. He is also general editor for Twayne's Filmmakers Series of which his book on Oliver Stone is a part. The Twayne series includes studies of auteurs, movements, genres, and nationalist cinema; it attempts to address a wide audience including the film student, the scholar, and the general reader.

Beaver claims to be eclectic in his approach to understanding Stone's work as screenwriter, director, and producer. He offers much factual material on Stone's personal life, identifies historical and cultural circumstances which shaped his vision as a filmmaker, catalogs production details, describes recurrent themes and structures and techniques in the films, as well as surveys critical reactions to Stone's work in the popular press. What emerges is a preliminary study of an auteur who is still very much alive and working.

Beaver sees Stone as a product of the turbulent 1960s-a rebel, forever changed by the assassination of JFK, the betrayal of Vietnam, and ultimately the drugs, music, and leftwing attitudes of the counterculture. He argues that this background prepared Stone to become an unconventional director of the 1980s and 1990s rebelling against an increasingly conservative America spinning on a political/aesthetic axis running from Ronald Reagan's Washington to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hollywood (or perhaps, now, the other way around). Beaver notes that Stone's films raise disturbing questions about America's involvement in El Salvador and its linkage to Vietnam, insider trading on Wall Street, inflammatory speech on talk radio, the rise and fall of rock-star celebrities, the treatment of Vietnam veterans, the assassination of JFK, and America's obligation to South Vietnamese refugees. Such righteous challenges to the ethics of American institutions, myths, and recent history embodied in free-swinging blends of fact and fiction quite naturally made Stone a controversial figure much discussed in the popular media. Consequently, Beaver follows the public debate over Stone's personality, work, and celebrity status in an attempt to assess the degree to which this fiercely independent filmmaker altered his artistic vision in response to public criticism. The answer appears to be, not much.

Recurrently Stone's films are seen to be told from a strong male perspective-headstrong, blustery, bold, ideologically explicit, mission oriented. In contrast to the standard Hollywood product meant to entertain, these are films meant to provoke or outrage-to wake up an audience lulled into a coma by comfortable myths and pieties placed upon recent history by cultural spin doctors in the media and political establishment. Beaver notes that Stone's "wakeup cinema" employs similar dramatic structures and a style which constitute the clear signature of an auteur. …