Rolling Stone

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Slate has posted a fabulous interview conducted by Ann Louise Bardach with Oliver Stone, whose film Looking for Fidel was broadcast Wednesday. Bardach, who wrote the excellent Cuba Confidential, on Cuban politics in Miami and Havana, does a demolition job on Stone, who was out to film a hagiography (though HBO had to send him back to Havana to shoot more scenes after his first attempt proved too sycophantic), but didn?t learn much else about his subject.

Some choice passages:

ALB: Now, when you were talking to the prisoners who tried to hijack a plane, one told you he was a fisherman, and you said, "Why then didn?t you take a boat?" Why did you ask that?

OS: Well, it seemed to me that if they were familiar with boats, it seemed to be the best way.

ALB: Did you know that in Cuba there are virtually no boats? The boats that are used for fishermen are tightly controlled. One of the more surreal aspects of Cuba, being the largest island in the Caribbean, is that there are no visible boats.

OS: I see.

Or this one:

ALB: Did you ask him about his relationship with Juanita in Miami?

OS: God, I don?t remember. There were so many women.

ALB: Juanita is his sister.

Or this one:

ALB: Did you ever think to bring up why he doesn?t hold a presidential election?

OS: I did. He said something to the effect, ?We have elections.?

ALB: Local representative elections. But what about a presidential election?

OS: We didn?t talk about it, especially in view of the fact that our own 2000 elections were a little bit discredited.

Bardach doesn?t bother to unravel that wacky logic (?I was ashamed to discuss the fact that he was an autocrat because, you know, we had a flawed election in the U.S.?). But if you do want to see what role the Miami Cubans played in the 2000 voting, drop Stone and be sure to buy her book.

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  1. He’s got a point about the election thing. Imagine, once we establish Freedom and Democracy in Iraq, we also impose an Electoral College and a two party system. And the Shiites can make the voting machines.

  2. There is no point to the election thing other than to score what OS thinks is a zinger against the interviewer by making the implication that Castro’s appalling treatment of his people is somehow less egregious because the U.S. had a fuss over the last election (which, by the way, did elect the eighth President of the US to serve during Castro’s eternal term).

  3. Stone is so fucking vile. The fact that he isn’t homeless is tragic, the fact that people line up to fork over cash for the privilege of having the bile he produces shove in their faces… well that’s just depressing.

  4. I’ll bet half the 30-year-olds out there think Stone’s “JFK” is true.

  5. Wait a minute! You mean JFK isn’t a documentary? So that’s where I went wrong.

  6. Gadfly;

    See, its comments like that that don’t help you in your cause, whatever it may be. Take a deep breath and try to put that comment in perspective.

  7. Oliver Stone jumped the shark so high, and so far, that he actually created a time warp that caused him to go back in time and ruin movies of his that were previously considered good. The only other celebrities thus far to have exhibited this power were Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Sylvester Stallone, so Oliver is in pretty exclusive company.

  8. ALB: What about when you ask them what they think is a fair sentence for their crimes, and one of them starts to talk about how he’d like to have 30 years in prison?

    OS: I was shocked at that. But Bush would have shot these people, is what Castro said. ? I don’t know what the parole system is.

    ALB: There is none unless Fidel Castro decides to give you clemency.

    {Now that’s doing your homework! Stone sees nothing, and he knows nothing, which somehow qualifies him to produce an HBO special to educate the American people about Cuba. I think the right word here is ‘pernicious’}

    OS: You’re going to the theory that they were trying to get good time in front of the camera to get lighter sentences.

    ALB: I’m going even further than that. I’m suggesting that they had no choice but to appear there, and that in some ways it was a bit of a mini-show-trial, sort of “Look how well we treat our prisoners.”

    OS: It does have that aura, absolutely. But I do maintain that if it were a Stalinist state ? they certainly do a great job of concealing it.

    {This sounds like US Ambassador Joseph Davies, who observed the Moscow Purge Trials, finding that the farcical Bukharin trial established guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, and that “To assume that the Pyatakov-Radek Trial was invented and staged would be to presuppose the creative genius of Shakespeare and the genius of Belasco in stage production”. Or Upton Sinclair, who was convinced the confessions had to be genuine, because “the Bolsheviks would have let the GPU agents tear them to pieces shred by shred before they would have confessed to actions which they had not committed.” Sinclair apparently could not imagine a regime that would coerce confessions without leaving a mark, by threatening to shred wives and children.}

    ALB: To me, one of the most interesting exchanges in the film is when you ask, “Why did you decide to shoot these three hijackers on the eighth day?” And he bristles and says, “I didn’t shoot anyone, personally.” You respond, “Well, OK, the state shot these three guys on the eighth day.” He then says, “Of course, I take my share of responsibility.”

    OS: He was a huge part of the state, and now, as he points out, he has less power. ? There is a functioning congress.

    {Compare with the Webbs’ comments on Stalin in 1942: “Stalin is not a dictator…he is the duly elected representative of one of the Moscow constituencies to the Supreme Soviet…he is merely a colleague of thirty other members, and so far as the Communist Party is concerned he acts as general secretary under the orders of the executive.”}

    ALB: Did you go to the prisons in Cuba?

    OS: No, I didn’t.

    ALB: So you don’t know if they’re any different than, say, the prisons in Honduras then?

    OS: I think that those prisoners are being honest.

    {Compare with Own Lattimore’s report from Siberia in 1944: “Madagan…can be roughly compared to a combination of Hudson’s Bay Company and TVA…including a first-class orchestra and a good light-opera company.” Or Henry Wallace: “The Kolyma gold miners are big, husky young men, who came out to the Far East from European Russia. I spoke with some of them.” This was describing a visit to the very heart of an enormous GULAG, a destructive labor camp where between 2.5 – 3 million “repressed persons” were being systematically worked and starved to death in temperatures that went to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Stone undoubtedly thinks Guantanamo is far worse.}

  9. Add George Lucas to the list.

  10. Sorry, that was in reference to the “OS jumping the shark” post. The worst part is that Lucas actually DID go back and edit his old Star Wars movies to make them worse (I did like that he added the Jabba scene in the first one, but most of the changes he made were totally unnecessary, and of the “look what we can do with new filmmaking technology–whooo!” sort).

  11. And the scary thing is, in Hollywood, Stone is what passes for an intellectual.

  12. ALB: Is there a show-trial element here?

    OS: Yeah. I thought that was funny, I did.

  13. I got a feeling that back during the whole Tiananmen Square indicient, Ollie was hoping the tanks would roll over the student. I mean, how dare those ingrates protest their government after all the things Mao did to them… I mean, for them.

  14. “It’s Zapata, remember that movie?”

  15. the fact that people line up to fork over cash for the privilege of having the bile he produces shove in their faces… well that’s just depressing

    Well, don’t get TOO depressed. He hasn’t had a successful picture since “JFK”, 13 years ago. Even films “acclaimed” by easily impressed (or easily-bought) critics, like “U-Turn” and “Natural Born Killers”, really didn’t go anywhere at the box office.

    Personally, the only films he’s ever been involved in, that I liked, were “Conan the Barbarian” (which he wrote — a great adaptation of the stories) and the movies “Freeway” and “The People Vs. Larry Flynt”, which he produced. What the heck anyone *ever* saw in movies like Platoon and Wall Street is a mystery to me.

  16. Best “guy” scene in Jaws is the Hooper, Brody, and Quint getting shit-faced on the boat, crushing the empties, while Hooper has to crush his Dixie cup. Still makes me laugh.

  17. He was a script writer for a number of good movies way back when, not that I can remember any of the titles.

    Contrast what Stone thinks about Castro to Arthur Miller’s article of last year about his visit to Cuba. Miller’s kind of a focused, semi-lapsed Stalinist, while Stone seems to me to be a New Left guy. Maybe all the dope he smoked has something to do with it.

  18. I meant to say that Stone is a dopey New Left guy.

  19. I think Stone is a great director. But my God is he stupid about politics.

    “But I do maintain that if it were a Stalinist state ? they certainly do a great job of concealing it.” You mean like STALIN did? Sheesh.

    To be fair, I can see people in 1920 or 1042 being taken in, because the degree of manipulation and propaganda the Soviets managed to pull of was unheard of up to that point in history. But for someone in the 21st century to be taken in by the shtick is pretty damning.

  20. Milius also wrote the second “Dirty Harry” movie, and parts of the first (including the “make my day” line), and the Indionappolis speach in Jaws.

    Just to be clear, the “Make my day” speech was not in Dirty Harry, but in Sudden Impact, one of the last two Dirty Harry movies. (The Dead Pool was the last.) Are you referring to the “Do I feel lucky?” speech?

    Also, the Indianapolis speech in Jaws had many fathers. Some was from Milius, some from screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, and some of it was made up ex tempore by Robert Shaw.

  21. “Personally, the only films he’s ever been involved in, that I liked, were “Conan the Barbarian” (which he wrote — a great adaptation of the stories) . . .”

    Uhh, it was John Milius who wrote the “Conan the Barbarian” screenplay. Milius also wrote the second “Dirty Harry” movie, and parts of the first (including the “make my day” line), and the Indionappolis speach in Jaws.

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