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Oliver Stone, a man you can respect even as you shake your head

July 2, 2010 |  5:44 pm

Why wait for September to cause a ruckus when you can get one going today? That might be the mantra for Oliver Stone and his (sometimes) good-natured rabble-rousing.

Stone will get the Fox News set agitated (his publicity team hopes) with his indictment of the financial system in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" in the fall. But in the meantime, he has a new documentary titled "South of the Border” — a shameless if genial piece of agitprop about leftist leaders in South America and Cuba — that opens this weekend in Los Angeles (with a few scattered protests thrown in for good measure).

In the film, Stone crisscrosses South America lobbing mainly gentle questions at six leftist leaders. It’s a survey course of modern Latin American politicians and their relationship with America and Americans, but after a fashion; those hoping for context on the opposition or even the people these leaders govern will be forced to look elsewhere.

For his part, Stone says that the point of the film is not to explore every wrinkle in modern Latin American society but to offer a cinematic corrective to stateside perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. “This issue is much larger than these six countries,” Stone said in an interview. “We’re still subscribing to the Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz doctrine of unilateral control of the world. Obama is a puppet president in that regard.”

Stone has been on a barnstorming tour the last few months, screening the film for government leaders in Madrid, tastemakers in New York, peasants in the rural Bolivian city of Cochabamba and, earlier this week, in L.A. for the Hollywood set (a set including Barbra Streisand, Fox chief Tom Rothman and the director Brett Ratner, to name a few). Our full story on Stone runs in Sunday's paper, but you can read the piece, about Stone's adventures with Latin American leaders, online today.

Writing about Stone is something of an adventure in its own right, as the story seems to change even as you try to report it. Just before the L.A. screening,  the New York Times ran a piece calling out Stone for what it termed "mistakes, misstatements and missing details," for whitewashing the leaders’ records and for self-selecting experts. Stone and his two researchers responded with a detailed, 1,750-word blog post laying out why these were not mistakes and calling the article a “very dishonest attempt to discredit the film.” At the screening, producers were still visibly angry about the piece, noting that the writer, the paper’s longtime Latin American expert Larry Rohter, was not to be trusted because he had rightist sympathies. Several days later, Rohter rifled back. Two days after that, Stone's camp returned fire once more. And so it goes.

Critics of the film aren't completely misguided. For all the research that went into the film, noticeably missing are questions even high-schoolers would want answered. (A producer says that some tougher questions could be included on a DVD of “South of the Border.”)

Still, after witnessing Stone on the stump over a period of six weeks — in Cannes last month for “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and now for “South of the Border” — it's hard not to have a certain respect for him. Few Hollywood directors show this kind of intellectual combativeness or conviction, and even when Stone comes off as cringingly off-base, it’s difficult not to admire the feistiness and wonkiness of a man who could just as easily collect his studio paycheck and go home. But there he is at screenings all over the world, rattling off statistics about GDP, oil production and economic inequities. It's a cheerful skepticism — and a numbers-laden answer to every question — that's hard to dislike.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez. Credit: "South of the Border"

Comments () | Archives (14)

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I still not get it why he hasn't moved to where he is so utterly convinced that the government is so effective and good.
If this country is practically lost and the government is such a systematic disaster while that country follows his viewpoint of life:
Why he doesn't put his butt where his mouth is, gets out of here and makes that place his official residency and business center for once and for all?
He already know everyone he needs to know to be famous, live the good life and be safe.
So why not?
What? Is good for a visit and to get finance for his movies, but not good stay long enough to settle with his wife and kids, and pay taxes there?
Well, it may not be news coming from a Hollywood guy, but seriously, what an hypocrite!

I appreciated the film's honesty about this mainstream Hollywood Director who goes out to talk to these world leaders and find out what the fuss is all about. I see this film as a way of reaching mainstream audiences to provide a "flipping the script" corrective to the way the right wing and even the supposed "Center" media stereotype and spin Latin America. No, these leaders are not perfect, there are issues in these countries--and we can say the same about the US....for example, why do we approve bills to give more $ to corporations at the federal level while at the state level the public tax base for educating our young people is being eroded.

A man you respect? No Sorry LA Times. Hes someone the freaks in Hollywood respect. The 95% rest of the country thinks hes a complete loon. I think its hilarious that the far left of So Cal honestly think that their beliefs speak for the majority of the country.

Only an LA Times writer would give Oliver Stone any slack regarding this obvious piece of leftist propaganda.

The guy is anti-american and a socialist pig. He needs to move to cuba or live with Chavez. Disgusting.

Other than the reluctant respect shown for Stone, it is Steven Zeitchek who is US govt/media-typical "cringingly offbase". How deep can brown-nosing the extremely ugly Amerikan govt foreign policy GET??

One wishes for a conscience to develop in journalism that would begin to expose the travesties our terrorist govt commits on a daily basis in representation only of the top 1% running the wars and ruining the economy. These little South American countries have had the Big Pig's foot on their necks so long, just their act of exhaling independently is seen as threat to Amerikan global misrule. As it is. On this 4th of July, freedom from the evil of our federal govt is being best expressed abroad.

Where to begin with Oliver Stone? How about how he not only gave up any last shred of credibility and personal dignity he might have had left when he released the lie-upon-lie-upon-lie horror-ific "JFK" in 1991, but that he showed he belongs in a strait jacket, chained to a wall in a loony bin. Okay, the strait jacket-loony bin thing is over the top, but this man is so seriously deluded AND hate-filled he does nothing but make destructive - flat-out degenerate - films that poison the movie making industry. He is a leading reason why people are disgusted with Hollywood, and why we no longer trust the place to do anything but churn out insane leftist screeds that are meant only to indoctrinate and drag America closer to the "Utopian" dream of the far (out) left. He will go down as a laughing stock, which is truly pathetic because he is enormously talented.

Mr. Zeitchik,

It's interesting to see what you consider admirable.

Do you also admire Castro, the subject of a Stone hagiographic bomb. Fidel is also cringingly off-base, feisty and wonky. How about Ché? He's all that plus looks great on a T-shirt. Ché could have easily have collected a paycheck as a doctor and gone home. You've got to admire that, Mr. Zeitchik. Or does "cringingly off-base" have its limits?

I fall to the right of the political dial, but I'm grateful I live in a country where a leftist can put together a slanted documentary to support his particular political beliefs. I expect the only pushback Mr. Stone will see are a few peaceful marches, some chatter on the web, and criticism from that "evil" Fox News.

I wonder, though, if Mr. Stone has considered how well it would go for a Venezuelan director who wishes to produce and promote a pro-right wing documentary celebrating the likes of Reagan, Thatcher, and Bush? Makes you go, hmmmm, doesn't it?

Wow, just judging from the letters it's obvious that Americans are open-minded, tolerant of dissent, and not at all bigoted or interested in dominating Latin America. It's obvious that Stone is way off-base about America: America is perfect, a loving country filled with people who desire only peace and justice. Clearly, the one-sided description of Chavez and other leaders - which we get not only from Fox News, abut also CNN, CNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, The NY Times, The Washington Post... the list is endless, but most have never even interviewed one of these leaders - is to be preferred over the one-sided view offered by Stone, since he traveled all over the continent interviewing the leaders (and of course doesn't ever make any beans about being "fair" or "showing both sides" - never claims to be "balanced," and is so obviously not balanced, unlike those other fair and balanced media outlets). Especially since listening to Oliver Stone contradict what we already known and love to be TRUE might actually cause, I don't know, dialogue or something. And we can't have that. No siree bob! Not in America, where everyone has already decided they are open minded about having their mind already made up for them, thanks. Man, just when I think this country couldn't get any more jingoistic, right-leaning, fascist, and plain stupid, well... I wake up.

These conservatives telling Oliver Stone to live elsewhere for having legitimate criticisms of US policy are anti-American scum, who obviously hate free speech and are intolerant of opinions different from their own (unless they're opinions that limit freedom, which conservatives love)

Conservatives =scourge of America.

At the end of the day, the man makes his paycheck by making movies. Not by determining foreign policy, or by leading a cultural revolution, or by smoking cigars with south american dictators. I could care less about Oliver Stone's politics, just as I could care less about Sean Penn's kooky rants. If they make something thats worth my 15 bucks, fine. If not, fine also. Those who use the term"Hollywood" as if it's some sort of political or corporate entity that holds secret meetings at communist party headquarters, are simplistic and cliched. Hollywood is a town. The movie industry sells entertainment. That's it. Relax, and let people speak their piece. That's America folks. The rest is gossip.

1. I respect Stone for making this film, but I despise the Hollyweird subculture.

2. I respect Stone for making this film, even though this film is little more than leftist propaganda.

3. I respect Stone for making this film, although the power of rightists in the USA is greatly exagerrated these days.

4. I respect Stone for making this film because neither Venezuela nor Cuba is going to invade the USA.

5. I respect Stone for making this film because Chavez and Morales are doing the best thing for their economies by putting more money in the hands of more people.

5. I respect Stone for making this film
because all Americans, including those in the liberal media, need to become aware of how destructive the USA's antiquated Latin America policy is, not only to Latin America but to the USA itself.

The Cold War has been over for 20 years. It's high time we stopped trying to dominate and interfere with Latin America and started trying to sell our products and services to Latin America.

It might help our trade deficit and unemployment, in the opinion of this capitalist.

I can't say I have respect for Oliver Stone. He praises leftist "leaders" like Chavez and Castro even though these "men" have committed numerous human rights abuses and adhere to an authoritarian brand of governing. You don't have to look far to find examples. Even the European Parliament "expressed concern about the movement toward authoritarianism" in Venezuela. According to Human Rights Watch in 2009, "the Chavez government has systematically undermined journalists' freedom of expression, workers' freedom of association, and the ability of civil society groups to promote human rights." It uses the justice system, which is not independent, to harass its political opponents and university students. Lets not forget the extrajudicial killings by security agents.

Stone admires Chavez's rebellious nature. However, the act of "rebelling" isn't necessarily a virtue. For instance, the fascists rebelled in Spain against the loyalists, leading to the rise of Francisco Franco, whose regime wasn't exactly an improvement over its predecessor. It appears that Stone partakes in the hero worship of those who thumb their nose at others and has become very proficient in performing the intellectual gymnastics necessary to glorify leftist monsters calling themselves leaders today. What he and his ilk propose to do is to replace the horrors of the right for those of the left -- absolute lunacy.


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