- The Cinema of Oliver Stone: Art, Authorship and Activism by Ian Scott and Henry Thompson
Critical attention to filmmaker Oliver Stone flourished in the 1990s with numerous academic and popular books published that assessed the first two decades of his film career. More recently, written criticism about Stone and his films has fallen off despite his continued, prolific pace of creative production in the twenty-first century. In The Cinema of Oliver Stone: Art, Authorship and Activism, film scholars Ian Scott and Henry Thompson examine this relatively recent period of Stone's filmmaking career against his earlier "classic" phase that includes his beginnings as a screenwriter. While the authors redress the scholarly neglect of Stone's more recent films (subsequent to the release of Nixon in 1995), their intent is a "critical and discursive reassessment of all of Oliver Stone's films and career" (15-16), which they perform with contextualized analysis of films grouped thematically rather than chronologically around five topics: war, politics, money, love, and corporations. In this comprehensive reassessment, the authors make a compelling case for the enduring relevance of Oliver Stone as "unquestionably the foremost political filmmaker of the last thirty years" (24).
As their book's title would indicate, Scott and Thompson make the auteurist argument that Stone's films since the mid-1990s develop the subject matter of his celebrated work of the 1980s and early 1990s. Even as Stone staked out new directions in dramatic film with a stylistic turn toward melodrama and with documentaries featuring critical and historical narratives, the authors argue Stone's auteurism rests upon a critique of "the myths of empire and American exceptionalism" (24) that runs through nearly all his directorial work. Seeking to counter critics who overly emphasize a disjunction between Stone's films after Nixon and his earlier acclaimed and controversial films that tackled, and at times criticized, prevailing American attitudes and beliefs about war, politics, and the economy, Scott and Thompson argue, "Politically, socially and in terms of his belief in the power of cultural appropriation to galvanise the public to arms and to demands, [Stone] is very much the same filmmaker that he was at the beginning of his career …" (16).
The book's thematic organization makes connections between the films of Stone's earlier and later phases. For example, the chapter titled "Money" pairs Wall Street (1987) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) by examining their portrayals of financial and banking industries in relation to Savages (2012), whose narrative depicts a horrifically violent Mexican drug cartel's attempted takeover of a California-based marijuana company. For Scott and Thompson, the three films serve as Stone's examination of "monetary corruption," a discussion the authors contextualize by noting news stories from 2012 and 2013 revealing British and American banking and financial firms' involvement in the money laundering of cartel and other drug trade profits. This financial corruption is linked to governmental corruption as the conclusions of both Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Savages portray an "emerging realisation of the limitations for redress that are available through institutional justice." These portrayals are complex and suggest both potentially radical and conservative elements in Stone's worldview, as the narratives "anchored themselves not in late-twentieth and early twenty-first-century liberalism, with its concomitant praxis of government-driven social justice, but in an earlier and more problematic version of the American Dream that put its faith in individual action" (153). In the penultimate chapter, "Corporations," the authors describe Stone's Edward Snowden project, which would be [End Page 78] released as Snowden in 2016, as a story that connects to Stone's previous films, noting it "drew on everything that Stone had been talking about for ten years, and tapped into a deeper sensibility that had been with him since Salvador, if not before, in those dark days as a young man in Vietnam" (226).
In their assessment of Stone as auteur filmmaker, the authors construct a narrative that examines a corollary issue of the "changing nature of the film...