Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oliver Stone at UCI Irvine

Gary Fouse

On October 26, motion picture producer Oliver Stone appeared at UC Irvine along with Professor Peter Kuznick of American University to promote their movie and book entitled, "The Untold History of the United States". The event was sponsored by the UCI Dept of Film and Media Studies and the UCI Humanities Collective.

After a couple of introductory remarks by UCI officials, Mr Kuznick introduced the film. (Stone had not arrived yet.) The film, narrated by Stone, lasted about an hour and basically was devoted to attacking the foreign policy of the United States. I say basically because it was a rambling film beginning with sinister images of George W Bush and Dick Cheney in the aftermath of 9-11. The idea was that Bush and Cheney used 9-11 to promote their vision of attacking several Middle Eastern countries. The film ridiculed the idea that the administration had chosen hundreds of US locales and events as possible terrorist targets like the Indianapolis 500, petting zoos, amusement parks etc. Some in the audience laughed derisively.

(No mention was made of the Boston Marathon. Apparently, Bush and Cheney overlooked that one.)

The film moved on to cover all the controversial aspects of the resultant war on terror; the Patriot Act, the invasion of Afghanistan ("even though no Afghans were among the 9-11 hijackers", completely ignoring the fact that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were based in that country), the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, water-boarding, and on and on. References were made back to Vietnam to drive home the point that America is an imperialistic country- a description that was made several times during the Q and A. There were scenes of Americans torturing foreign prisoners, but the scenes came from previous motion pictures involving actors. There were also actual Abu Ghraib photographs, more graphic than previously seen by the public in that they showed full frontal nudity of the prisoners.

I also noted that Stone's skill in film making also includes the appropriate use of low volume background music. Whenever Bush and Cheney were pictured, the music was sinister in nature, but when the election of Obama was portrayed, the first images of Obama were accompanied by uplifting 4th of July-type music.

Not to say that Obama didn't come in for criticism, but  the main theme seemed that Obama continued the Bush policies so as not to be perceived as weak on defense. His campaign funding was also criticized. During the Q and A, Stone described Obama as a reasonable man, but he was concerned about how a hard-line successor like Bush or Cheney might abuse his powers (paraphrasing).

There was also much use of the National Anthem being played in the background (very low in volume) in slow motion, sad tones so as to reinforce the impression that America has lost her way and is betraying her ideals..

There were also at least three references to "neo-cons" in the movie. There was the requisite condemnation of Wall Street, the banks and the bank bailouts, as well as a reference (with sinister music) to the "infamous" Koch Bothers. (No mention of George Soros) and the Tea Party (no mention of Occupy)

I reiterate here that the movie was rambling in case you think this posting is rambling. In discussing Southeast Asia, there was a reference made to a statement by Alfred W. McCoy, who was the author of ,"The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia", a book written in 1972 that charged the CIA as being complicit in heroin trafficking in the Golden Triangle area of Burma, Thailand and Laos, as well as Vietnam through their support of corrupt anti-Communist officials and armies, who in turn had their hands in the drug traffic. There was a shot of the book cover, with a sub-title that said something like, "How the CIA was involved in the Drug Trade". I am paraphrasing. One or two words may be off, but that was the message conveyed.  Being an old DEA agent who served in Thailand a few years after the book came out, I have read the book and still have a copy on my book shelf. There is no such sub-title on the cover. True, there is much criticism in the book of the US -and the CIA-supporting corrupt people in the aforementioned countries because they were anti-Communist.

The most ridiculous shot of the movie was a shot of ex- playboy LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa giving a speech and decrying the money spent on the military as opposed to education or some other social program.

I mean, quoting Antonio Villaraigosa??!!

The most offensive line was a statement by Stone in the narration that described "Navy Seals executing Osama bin Laden vigilante style and dumping his body into the sea".  There was also a reference to "the terror threat grown wildly out of proportion."

The film ended with Stone pleading for an America with more understanding of the positions of our enemies, surrendering the idea of American exceptualism, peace, love, etc.

Upon the completion of the film, Stone entered the hall and he and Kuznick sat at the stage to take questions. I got the first, and it went something like this: "I am a part-time teacher here at the UCI Ext and I would like to address this to Mr Stone because like you, I am a military veteran during the same time period. Unlike you, I was not sent to Vietnam, rather Germany, so I have great respect for your military service to our country. I do feel, however, that your experience has turned you against your country, and I would like to know if you ever considered that were it not for the US and particularly our military, I don't think any country in the world would be living in freedom today. If I have any message for the young people in this room it is that in spite of this one-sided presentation, all our mistakes and dark chapters in our history-and we are still making mistakes today, this is a great country and does deserve your support and loyalty." (Mild applause).

Stone's first sentence back to me was, "Obviously, Sir, we disagree." He then went on a long answer outlining his points beginning with his original belief that the Vietnam war was just when he was sent there, but how he changed his opinions after he returned. He then went on to a litany of other issues before the moderator moved on to the next question. At some point during the Q and A, he made references to former presidents who had led the country into war and who had run against war vets. The prime example he used was George McGovern, who had been a fighter pilot in World War II vs Richard Nixon, who was a "rear echelon officer making his money in the Navy playing cards". (Again I am paraphrasing.) He also mentioned George W Bush, of course, but said nothing about draft dodger Bill Clinton, who defeated George HW Bush and Bob Dole, also decorated WW II vets.

I did not videotape this event because at the start, they requested no taping. I could have made a scene and insisted on the right to tape since it was a public event at a public university, but since they announced that the school would be posting it on their website, I decided not to.

There were three or four other questions. One older vet became emotional in asking for the Veterans Administration to take more action to help homeless vets. Neither Stone nor Kuznick had much to add to that. A couple of other questions were, frankly, difficult to understand.

During the Q and A, I heard the speakers make several references to America as an imperial power. of course, they did not list any of America's colonies.

To sum up, this movie, while well-produced, is a one-sided presentation of many complex issues in our history including today's issues. While there were several criticisms of intelligence gathering that has intruded on the privacy of the American public, issues like Benghazi, Operation Fast and Furious, and the IRS scandal  were not delved into. Perhaps, that has something to do with when production on the film closed. I don't know. I attended this event because I anticipated (correctly) that it would be an exercise in America-bashing. I hoped that I would get an opportunity during the Q and A to say something positive about our country for the benefit of the students in the audience. It was about the only positive thing said about our country all evening.

But what do you expect on the campus of an American university?

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