November 2008 | Home
During World War II, with men overseas, women dominated U-M as they never had before — and would not again until the '70s.
Rich Rodriguez has called his first season as U-M's football coach the hardest of his career. But he's faced tougher times and longer odds in his life.
Most emailed stories
- Exactly how much housework does a husband create?
- U-M Heritage: How to date women, circa 1943
- U-M top U.S. public university in World University Rankings
Anti - Apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at U-M about forgiveness.
Soon, U-M's renovated art museum will open, which has our word guru thinking about snooty art words.
The movie 'W.' only seems to be a different kind of Oliver Stone film. In fact, it's a return to the obsession that has driven Stone's entire career.
An online magazine for alumni and friends of U-M.
All about Oliver
"W." only seems to be a different kind of Oliver Stone film. In fact, it's a return to the obsession that has driven Stone's entire career.
October 14, 2008
In 1994 I wrote a book about Oliver Stone that analyzed his early films, which focused on U.S. politics and the counterculture of the 1960s. The book, Oliver Stone: Wakeup Cinema, surveyed the responses his films generated among critics and filmgoers. I gathered and evaluated just about everything written about Stone and his films, including the many interviews given to reporters in the decade following the harshly realistic and controversial "Salvador" (1985). That film, which criticized U.S. policy during El Salvador's "reign of terror" in 1980-81, launched Stone's reputation as an unconventional director-writer committed to working against Hollywood's more conservative traditions—both in style and politics. It also signaled the beginning of the controversy that would greet one Oliver Stone film after another. Some liked "Salvador"'s "edge," its "bitter pill of truth," its "fury." One critic termed it "an astounding visual and narrative feat." Those less persuaded described the film as "repugnant," "preachy," "left-wing machismo."
The intensity of these opposing reactions set the stage for more of the same as Stone continued to make visceral, uncompromising films. In "Platoon," "Wall Street," "Talk Radio," "Born on the Fourth of July" and "The Doors," his male protagonists encompassed both good and bad qualities but nonetheless became compelling figures through Stone's bombastic style. Each of these films was debated, defended, derided, praised and damned. By the time of "JFK" in 1991, Stone's reputation as a radical filmmaker was so embedded in our cultural consciousness that newspapers approached the release of the film as front-page news. Stone's conspiracy theory of the Kennedy assassination encountered a furor and critical scrutiny unmatched in motion picture history.
And now Stone has once again turned to presidential politics in "W.," an Oedipal interpretation of the ups and downs of George W. Bush's private and political life. The film at first catches one off guard. Where is the excessive Oliver Stone we came to love or hate? Where is the sermon?
Many critics and filmmakers have been surprised by "W.'s" humanistic, albeit sad, take on our 43rd president. Many have called the treatment sympathetic, even though the film charts Bush's private and political personae to tragicomic effect. And there's the question of why Stone would make a film about a still-sitting president.
But "W." is a quintessential Oliver Stone film. Its narrative and thematic components are deeply embedded in Stone's long-standing impulse to tell stories that are at least metaphorically autobiographical. In the summation of my 1994 book I wrote: An Oliver Stone "hero descends to the darkest of pits, pulled there by all sorts of tainting lures: drugs, easy sex, money, a search for self-esteem or the truth, the desire to win and prove oneself worthy. The psychological spine that braces the prototypical Stone hero and compels his actions bears the weight of a strong father complex."
Many of Stone's movies come down to a struggle between father and son.
The protagonist of "Platoon" says he joined the army and went to Vietnam because his grandfather and father had served in World Wars I and II, respectively. "Wall Street"'s young protagonist is drawn to the perilous greed of the financial jungle, but in the end is saved from his sins by an idealistic father. The tortured personae of Ron Kovic in "Born on the Fourth of July," and Jim Morrison in "The Doors" endure family disintegration and fathers who disown them.
The obsessive father narratives in Oliver Stone's films grew from deep psychological ties to his own father Lou Stone, a Wall Street stockbroker. Lou Stone was a strict disciplinarian, urging his young son to become better and better, and later chastising him for dropping out of Yale, joining the army and, in Stone's words, seeing his son return from Vietnam "a drug-ridden, uneducated bum." Insiders said that the younger Stone had joined the army in part to prove himself to his father, who had served in World War II, making his father's disdain for Stone's Vietnam service all the more painful.
The narrative line that runs through "W." recasts Oliver Stone's own father complex through a familiar archetype: a renegade son who is compelled to prove himself worthy to a highly critical father, and doing so through actions that can turn out to be ill-conceived and fraught with peril. Time and again in "W.," the older Bush, whom George calls Poppy, tells his drinking, carousing son "You disappoint me."
In another scene he asks Barbara Bush, "How many chances does this guy get?" After his born-again conversion, "Junior," as his Dad calls him, sets about trying to prove himself "worthy" by going into politics, even while saying "No matter what I do, it'll never be enough."
Jeb Bush has slammed Stone's take on the father-son relationship, saying the "Oedipal rivalry is high-grade, unadulterated hooey." Whatever the case, George W. Bush's story provided Stone with another opportunity to do what he'd done in previous films—project a flawed character, psychologically tied to a disappointed father, who seeks some form of redemption and a sense of self-worth. "W." gives Stone a compelling figure with whom he shares a strong, symbiotic identification: autobiographical catharsis in the guise of a familiar screen archetype.
Film historian and critic Frank Beaver is professor of film and video studies and professor of communication.