Oliver Stone

By Rampell, Ed | The Progressive, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Oliver Stone


Rampell, Ed, The Progressive


The Motorcycle Diaries is about young Ernesto Guevara's 1950s Latin America road trip, which eventually led him to Guatemala, where reformer Jacobo Arbenz was president. Three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone makes a similar sojourn in South of the Border with one significant difference: Today, to paraphrase Che, "one, two, three, many Arbenzes" have been created in South America. In this provocative documentary, Stone interviews the region's left- leaning leaders: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Brazil's Lula da Silva, Argentina's Cristina and Nestor Kirchner, Paraguay's Fernando Lugo, and Ecuador's Rafael Correa.

Stone's documentary highlights an essential if overlooked story: This is the world's only region where the Left has been successful since the Soviet bloc's collapse, as Latin American leftists swept to power and implemented far-reaching reforms. Stone has dared to make a "counter-myth" to the establishment's official line on these Latin American leaders, recording a sort of alternate people's history of the Southern Hemisphere.

One of Stone's biggest betes noires, the corporate-owned news media in both North and South America, comes in for a beating. Ecuador's Correa asserts, "Knowing the North American media, I would be more worried if they spoke well of me." Bolivia's first indigenous president, Morales, declares: "The media will always try to criminalize the fight against neoliberalism, colonialism, and imperialism. It's almost normal. The worst enemy I have is the media."

A Vietnam vet, Stone won Best Director Academy Awards for the 1986 and 1989 Indochina war movies Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. But Stone has cinematically ventured to Latin America before. In 1986, he directed the Central American death squad drama Salvador, which took on Reagan's policies there and scored James Woods a Best Actor Oscar nomination and Stone a Best Writing nom. Stone co-wrote the 1996 musical Evita, starring Madonna as Argentina's Eva Peron and Antonio Banderas as Che. In 2003, the feature filmmaker turned to documentary, directing the Fidel Castro biopic Comandante, which Stone laments HBO has never aired, followed by 2004's Looking for Fidel, which is less flattering to Castro (the cable channel played that one).

On September 24, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps--Stone's sequel to 1987's Wall Street--opens, with Michael Douglas returning as Gordon "Greed Is Good" Gekko, the role that won Douglas a Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe. In Stone's critical take on the recent financial meltdown, the avaricious insider trader finds out that "now it seems [greed] is legal because everybody's drinking the same Kool-Aid."

On June 25, L.A.'S lefty Cinema Libre began its national theatrical release of South near Wall Street in Manhattan, where it earned the weekend's top per-screen average of $21,000. South's cinematographer is Albert Maysles (co-director of 1970's Gimme Shelter); it was co-written by progressive intellectuals Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tariq Ali of the New Left Review.

I interviewed Stone at a publicist's Wilshire Boulevard high-rise office near Beverly Hills. The director is impressive in person, standing six-foot-something, tall, trim, mustachioed, and looking a decade younger than his sixty-three years. During the interview, he revealed himself to be extremely well informed, engaged, compassionate, and polite. He posed next to a poster of South depicting a white eagle's talon impaled by a red spike rising out of Venezuela.

Q: Why did you make South of the Border?

Oliver Stone: Because these Latin American leaders have been demonized by a combination of their own local media which is controlled by private, rich families, who don't want to see change in their countries--and also by the U.S. media, which is surprising, considering their distance from the facts.

Q: What do you want viewers to take away from this documentary? …

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