Oliver Stone Talks 'Untold History'11 Oct, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey
BURBANK, Calif. — Three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK) has more than two-dozen directing credits to his name, but his latest work took the director to his limit.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on. There were times I was in complete despair,” he said of The Untold History of the United States, the 10-part Showtime Original documentary series that looks under a different light at events that shaped American history, from the atomic bombing of Japan to Obama’s presidency. Stone also co-wrote a companion book for the series.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases the series on Blu-ray Disc and via digital outlets Oct. 15.
“I like to be honest to our time,” Stone said during a wide-ranging press event that covered Hollywood violence, the “Breaking Bad” finale and his own role as a controversial filmmaker. “There’s no way [Untold History] would have gotten on the air with [broadcast television]. That was a miracle getting on Showtime, really.”
The series approaches historical events often with a “what if,” like what if Henry Wallace had won the VP nomination in 1944, or what if JFK had lived, or what if George W. Bush reacted differently to intelligence reports in 2001, before 9/11?
“I wanted to make [this] exciting,” Stone said. “Now, some people said, ‘There’s too much going in here. I can’t follow it all.’ That’s OK. I’d rather go faster because I have to cover so much. I’d rather you look at it a second time, and some kids might do that. I often look at documentaries a second time.”
The episodes of Untold History went through three sets of fact checking — the fact-checkers employed by Stone and his crew, and also by those at Showtime and CBS — allowing Stone (who also narrated) and his co-writers Peter Kuznick and Matt Graham a sense they have a strong foot to stand on.
“The narrative had to be constantly re-written; the music we worked constantly on,” Stone said. “We had no interviews. I hate interviews. They would have slowed this down.”
Untold History blends historical footage with clips from Hollywood films — like from the “Rambo” franchise to illustrate public perception of Afghanistan — at many points, a strategic move to keep viewers engaged, Stone said.
“When you look at long swatches of archive film — and we’ve been through hundreds and hundreds of hours — you can really fall asleep,” Stone said. “How do you make this less boring? I love history, but I know people. The moment they see black and white, sometimes they drift. I wanted to make it exciting.”
Stone added that Untold History makes use of films during discussions of historical events to show how the public saw the world around them at certain points, like with Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Stone also criticized the finale of “Breaking Bad,” calling the final 15 minutes “ridiculous.” He said he does his best to treat violence with respect in his works, chastising the “fantasy violence” seen in many films and TV shows today.
“It’s only in movies that you find this kind of fantasy violence. And that’s infected the American culture,” Stone said. “At least respect violence … show it with authenticity.”
The Untold History Blu-ray set includes two prologue chapters that never aired on Showtime, both covering American history before World War II. The first, “World War I, The Russian Revolution & Woodrow Wilson: Roots of Empire,” moves viewers all the way back to the election of 1900 and the Spanish-American War, while the second, “1920–1940: Roosevelt, Hitler and Stalin — The Battle of Ideas,” focuses on Franklin Roosevelt, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the early U.S. alliance with the Soviet Union.
Blu-ray owners also get a bonus documentary, A Conversation With History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone, in which author and political philosopher Ali and Stone discuss a range of topics about the politics of history.