Oliver Stone shocked many when his movie "World Trade Center" was released in 2006. It was a masterpiece, a meditation on two firemen trapped in a darkened tomb of broken concrete, twisted metal and shattered glass. They had rushed headlong into the collapsing skyscrapers, only to be buried alive. So many of their colleagues died, but in the end these heroes were located by searchers and rescued.
Stone maintained it wasn't a political movie, and for the most part, it wasn't. It was a personal story. But this movie was also a gift to our country, a reminder not to forget this dark day's victims and its heroes. It was only political in that it was patriotic. It reminded us all across our country of how our fellow Americans in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania were mercilessly murdered. It came closest to politics (or patriotism) when the firemen were found by a man who vowed to join the War on Terror.
Sadly, that was but a brief hiccup in Stone's career, a befuddling, out-of-character career move. In most of his movies, Oliver Stone is clearly not a fan of America, both her leaders and her policies. Think "Born on the Fourth of July," "Platoon," "JFK," "Nixon" and "W."
Now he is promoting a new documentary called "South of the Border," which debuted June 25. Its philosophy is illustrated by the poster: The American eagle's talon is pierced by a large thorn coming out of a blood-red South America. It's no overstatement to say Stone deeply adores the trend of Yanqui-bashing leftists coming to power, from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Evo Morales in Bolivia to Lula da Silva in Brazil.
In a recent interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Stone vouched for Chavez, endorsing him as "absolutely" a "good person." When asked about Chavez's censorship of opposition press, he claimed there was none. "There's no pattern of censorship in this country. I've been there," proclaimed this geopolitical expert. "So, you can see it. You can go down to South America, spend three days, and you'll see the most vibrant opposition in the world."
Stone somehow missed the Venezuelan penal code from 2005, which states: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the President of the Republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of 6 to 30 months if the offense is serious and half of that if it is light." Oh, and that sanction applies to those who "disrespect" the president or his flunkies in private, too.
At the unveiling of "South of the Border" at the Venice Film Festival last September, Time's Richard Corliss reported that Stone and Chavez appeared in matching dark jackets, white shirts and red ties. When the festival announcer introduced Stone and not Chavez, Stone grabbed the strongman's hand and raised it overhead like they were presidential running mates. The crowd screamed in support, Stone holding hands with a man who famously suggested our last president was Satan.
It's not merely that Stone is infatuated with Chavez. He doesn't seem to consider, in his flowery "most vibrant opposition in the world" exclamation, that his last make-believe movie on clueless George W. Bush (and his bullying father George H.W. Bush) could not have been made in Venezuela if the subject were that country's president. Stone would be in prison.
This kind of performance reminds me of how Stone scorned the evil dominance of America right after 9/11. On Oct. 6, 2001, he participated in a panel discussion where he proclaimed that six companies have control of the world. (These all-powerful conglomerates were actually entertainment companies: AOL Time Warner; Disney; Fox's parent, News Corporation; Sony; Viacom; and Vivendi Universal.) Stone said the six represented "the new world order ... And I think the revolt of Sept. 11 was about 'F--- you. F--- your order.'" He also wondered, "Does anybody make a connection between the 2000 (presidential) election and the events of Sept. 11?"
The United States has provided great latitude to filmmakers mocking our presidents -- even imagining the assassination of our last president -- and somehow still, America, with all its freedoms offered to Hollywood, is mocked as an evil empire.
It is absolutely surreal that Stone would ever make a movie like "World Trade Center," which made heart-warming heroes out of Americans. Stone isn't just a critic of America, but of Americans, yet there's a certain paradox here. On the one hand, we want to dominate, exploit and enslave the world. On the other, we're powerless, rudderless puppets to those who roll over us and dominate. Stone somehow remains blind to the sweet land of liberty that allows him to stab that eagle in the foot with all of his might.