Friday, April 23, 2004

The Unbelievably Dumb World of Oliver Stone

Via Fr. Jim Tucker's magnificent Dappled Things blog, we read this interview of Oliver Stone by Ann Louise Burdoch of Slate. The O-Man is apparently just done filming Looking for Fidel, a hagiography of the man who juggles full-time job as inspirational icon for the Democratic Party with a part-time job as bloodthirstdy dictator of Cuba. From the intro, we learn that Looking for Fidel is actually a do-over -- Stoney-boy's first version contained so many instances of bootlicking and up-sucking that HBO's viewer focus groups confused it with a documentary by the American Dental Association. So HBO sent him back to Cuba for a "harder" look at Fidel. Unfortunately, as the interview shows, the only thing "harder" about the second film is the suction applied to Fidel's toe-cap. Kudos to Ms. Burdoch, who manages to maintain a professional tone while performing the journalistic equivalent of discussing Hegel with a not-very-bright drunk. Fr. Jim succinctly sums it up: "If you had any doubt about whether Stone was a clueless nut, read this interview." Though I never doubted it, herewith the stream of consciousness by which I came to a wholehearted agreement with Fr. Jim. My stream of consciousness is in blue, everyone else's in black.


ALB: Do you know that the Cubans are refusing visas to virtually all reporters and not allowing them back in the country?

OS: You know, the advantage I have is to be a filmmaker. That means I'm not a journalist and I don't have to give a damn about what Castro does to them. I only have to give a damn about George Bush stifling free speech with the Patriot Act. [Castro] seemed to love my movies. And isn't that delightfully odd? Wall Street - Amerika's economic immorality. Platoon -- Amerika's mindless and bloodthirsty immorality. Born on the 4th of July -- Amerika's ethical immorality. Salvador -- Amerika's immoral involvement in South Amerika. JFK -- Amerika's immoral political and legal systems. Nixon -- Amerika's immoral political and legal systems. People vs. Larry Flynt -- Amerika's immorality about everything. Yeah, Fidel sure has a varied taste in films. Apparently he liked my presence, and he trusted that I wouldn't edit him in a way that would be negative from the outset. Because I'll lick the boots of anyone who is anti-Amerikan. And I'm not a damn journalist. But I did tell him, the second trip, when I realized that Hollywood's "Free Tibet" crowd might see a glimmer of a parallel and become peeved at my bootlicking that I would try to be tougher, not disrespectfully so."Excuse me, mein Fuhrer, but some are suggesting that it's unwise to limit the intake of concentration-camp inmates to 600 rather than 725 calories per day. Do you have any thoughts on that?" As you see, several times [in the film] he does get upset. For example, when I asked him if he thought Nixon was the Antichrist, he became very agitated at my use of Christian imagery. He said it was too "soft" for a true revolutionary. I didn't have the heart to disagree with the old dear.

ALB: I gather you rejected the idea of demonizing him.

OS: Of course. Ja, naturlich! My role here was not in any way connected with truth. as a journalist. It really was as a bootlicking director and filmmaker. In my job, I challenge actors to vent Leftist fantasies. I provoke them into performances like Kevin Costner's in JFK -- which is really hard. I mean, how do you "provoke" a yawn?

ALB: Let me ask you about the part [in the film] where Castro's in front of eight prisoners charged with attempting to hijack a plane [to Miami]. He says to them, "I want you all to speak frankly and freely." What do you make of that whole scene, where you have these prisoners who happened to be wearing perfectly starched, nice blue shirts?

OS: Let me give you the background. He obviously set it up overnight and, as a bootlicking film-maker, I was happy to oblige. It was in that spirit that he said, "Ask whatever you want. I'm sitting here. I want to hear it too. I want to hear what they're thinking." He let me run the tribunal, so to speak.Hee hee, giggle giggle! Oh, it was so exciting! I always dreamed of running the revolutionary tribunal that would execute Republicans, and [sigh] it was wonderful! I don't know why people think Walter Duranty and Jane Fonda were ghoulish dilettants "slumming" in anti-Amerikan venues for the cheap thrill of participating in charades like this one. It's a totally unwarranted criticism!!

ALB: Sputter . . . sputter . . . But Cuba's leader for life is sitting in front of these guys who are facing life in prison, and you're asking them, "Are you well treated in prison?" Did you think they could honestly answer that question?

OS: If they were being horribly mistreated, that's just not my problem. I'm a filmmaker and a director, not some damn journalist who's too weak-kneed to do what needs to be done! Kopf Rollen! er . . . ahhhem then I don't know that they could be worse mistreated [afterward].and besides, it was just little old me, no one who could actually do anything about it! Gimme a break! I'm a filmmaker!

ALB: So in other words, you think they thought this was their best shot to air grievances? Rather than that if they did speak candidly, there'd be hell to pay when they got back to prison? Are you really that stupid?

OS: I must say, you're really picturing a Stalinist state. Castro's not a Stalinist. Haven't you heard? Stalin's bad. Even Susan Sontag says so! Nobody's said that about Castro except some Republicans, which means Castro's good. Don't you, like, read or anything? It doesn't feel that way. It's feelings that count. For example, go to a country where there's elections and the rule of law like Amerika, and you feel imprisoned because they won't let you run an execution tribunal for counterrevolutionary activities such as heterosexual marriage. Now that's proof of Stalinism. But if you go to Cuba, get wined and dined by the country's elite, feted and pampered all the way, and they let you run an execution tribunal, then by crackie you feel fresh, invigorated, and that's not Stalinism by any stretch of the imagination. I went to Yale, where they teach you these things. You can always find horrible prisons if you go to any country in Central America.Like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, which are brutal regimes created by an evil Amerika. How we can possibly lend our countenance to such horrible denials of human rights just proves that the Democrats have to win every election!

ALB: Did you go to the prisons in Cuba? Or are you just a blathering hypocrite?

OS: No, I didn't. And, like, just shut up about that, OK?

ALB: So you don't know if they're any different than, say, the prisons in Honduras then? And you really are just a blathering hypocrite?

OS: I think that those prisoners are being honest.And, like I said, just shut up, OK?

ALB: Rolling eyes . . What about when you ask them what they think is a fair sentence for their crimes, and one of them starts to talk about how he'd like to have 30 years in prison?

OS: I was shocked at that. Too shocked to wonder why someone would think 30 years in a Cuban prison is better than, say, being paroled to live among the general population. But Bush would have shot these people, is what Castro said.And he's right! Bush is a terrible, evil man! He props up regimes with horrible prisons! And there's no way he'd let me run the tribunals on Guantanamo! I asked, you know, and they didn't even reply! … I don't know what the parole system is.and I don't care. Dammit, Jim, I'm a bootlicker, not a journalist!

ALB: With pained expression There is none unless Fidel Castro decides to give you clemency. . . . They seemed very willing to bring up sound bites that Castro is partial to—that they wanted to leave Cuba only for economic reasons, not political ones, etc.Maybe you were just too stupid to understand English the first time. Let me ask you again: Do you think Castro was playing you for PR?

OS: You're going to the theory that they were trying to get good time in front of the camera to get lighter sentences.When we all know that people interrogated by the DGI -- especially when I'm running the tribunal -- tell only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

ALB: No, you ignorant ass, I'm going even further than that. I'm suggesting that they had no choice but to appear there, and that in some ways it was a bit of a mini-show-trial, sort of "Look how well we treat our prisoners." Get it? Do I need to use anatomically-correct dolls or something?

OS: It does have that aura, absolutely. and I don't care. Dammit, Jim, I'm a bootlicker, not a journalist! But I do maintain that if it were a Stalinist state snort! giggle! smirk! … they certainly do a great job of concealing it. Whereas Stalinist states conceal nothing! That's why Walter Duranty's reporting deserves a Pulitzer -- he just related what he saw, and what he saw was the truth!

ALB: To me, one of the most and only interesting exchanges in the film is when you ask, "Why did you decide to shoot these three hijackers on the eighth day?" And he bristles and says, "I didn't shoot anyone, personally." You respond, "Well, OK, the state shot these three guys on the eighth day." He then says, "Of course, I take my share of responsibility."

OS: He was a huge part of the state, and now, as he points out, he has less power. so he's not really, like, guilty of shooting anyone. He's a figurehead, a puppet, and one of the greatest dictators ever! He's like Cincinnatus, really, a common man forced into greatness by the times and . . . Did I mention his boots taste like cinnamon? … There is a functioning congress. The Cuban body politic has one, just like our bodies have a functioning appendix. It has a purpose or it wouldn't be there. They teach you these things at Yale, you know.

ALB: Do you really have such vast ignorance that you think that anything happens in Cuba without his approval?

OS: I don't know. I certainly didn't to anything in Cuba without his approval. One time he made me wait 30 minutes to pee. It was excruciating!

ALB: You don't know?

OS: I've heard that the reform elements tried to move in like they always try to do, those evil snakes-in-the-grass! after the Soviet Union's [collapse] … in '92 and '93, imagine the heartlessness of that! Taking shameless political advantage at a time of worldwide grief! Oh the humanity! and Castro took the hard line on that.But I was busy producing Zebrahead, so I couldn't help him by running any tribunals. I was really bummed out about that. Did I mention his boot-heels show more wear on the left left side than the right? It's wonderful how everything about the man shows his politics!

ALB: That's right. Good for you, Ollie! Here's a pice of bacon! Nice Ollie! As far as I know, Comandante has the first footage of Fidel with his son Fidelito and grandson, aside from formal receptions, etc. How did they respond to each other?

OS: It reminded me of Uday and Qusay, really, the warmth and closeness . . . it was inspiring! I think Fidel said something to the effect that, at the end, he could have been a better father if he hadn't been a mass-murdering megalomaniac. But all fathers have shortcomings. In a way, Fidel reminded me of Carl Fox, Bud's father in Wall Street -- gruff, but down-to-earth and full of hard-won widsom.

ALB: Now, when you were talking to the prisoners who tried to hijack a plane, one told you he was a fisherman, and you said, "Why then didn't you take a boat?" Why did you ask that?

OS: Because I'm amazingly stupid. And I was so high!!! It's just dumb luck that I didn't ask "why didn't you take the bus?" Well, it seemed to me that if they were familiar with boats, it seemed to be the best way.Da da dee da da duh Da da dee da da duh . . . .

ALB: Did you know that in Cuba there are virtually no boats? The boats that are used for fishermen are tightly controlled. One of the more surreal aspects of Cuba, being the largest island in the Caribbean, is that there are no visible boats.

OS: I see. No, I didn't know that. I'm an Amerikan liberal, and so I don't know jack, really. Except that sometimes Castro's socks fall down and, if you're looking up you can see his leg hair. It's beautiful! Very shiny and soft.

ALB: How did you end up in a hospital with him getting an EKG?

OS: I went with him to see a functioning hospital which is a very rare treat in Cuba. Most people never get to see one. I felt sooo privileged! So there's more proof Cuba's not Stalinist. in the heart of the city. Spontaneously, he took his shirt off, I almost died! and said, "Well, I need one. Give me one." I mean, even Castro can't get to a functioning hospital every day and, hell, why shouldn't he get medical care that's half as good as a recipient of our own pitiful, immoral welfare system! The [EKG results] looked good. which was a great relief to me. I though he actually might need medical attention, but it turns out he was just needlessly consuming medical resources that could have been used on a person of lesser importance.

ALB: In other words, he's saying to you, "All these rumors about me dying and my poor health, let me dispel them once and for all"?

OS: Huh? No, he didn't say that.

ALB: Speaking very slowly . . . . But . . . pause . . . by doing . . . pause . . . . this, in essence, . . . pause . . . . . he's . . . pause . . . saying . . . pause . . . that?

OS: Oh! I get it! Like, a, like . . . message . . . but, like, symbolized! Cool! In essence. But I had not heard these rumors about him dying. I won't hear them. Ever. They're too terrible. In the first documentary he showed us his exercise regime in the office, pacing back and forth. He walks three miles in his office. That makes it really hard to lick his boots. I found that I had to go on all fours and move really, really fast.

ALB: Did it strike you as interesting that at one point in the scene with the prisoners, Castro turned to the prisoners' defense lawyers, who just happened to be there, and he says, "I urge you to do your best to reduce the sentences"?

OS: I love that. I thought that was hilarious. Because, like, Castro runs that country, even though he doesn't personally shoot people. I remembered how unamusing Amerikan "justice" with its racist, trumped-up charges, denial of due-process, and general moral corruption is. That made me angry. If only we could have a really funny judicial system like Cuba's! Those guys just popped up. Like martinets, which is what they were, but funny somehow, more like a Fran-and-Ollie puppet show. I thought about our own deadpan Amerikan "justice" which denies adequate funding to public-defender offices, and cried for our country.

ALB: Let me draw this. Here . . . this circle is Cuba. That's Cuba, right there, that circle. Now this doohickey is a "show-trial," as in not really a trial, it just looks like one . . . No, NO! Oliver, don't eat the paper, put it down, DOWN! Good. Now, look at the picture, and tell me, Is there a show-trial element here?

OS: Yeah. I thought that was funny, I did — the prosecutor and Fidel admonishing them, to make sure they worked hard. It was so cute! There was that paternalism. I mean "father knows best," as opposed to totalitarianism. I mean, Bush is totalitarian. He doesn't give you that warm feeling Castro does when you lick his boots. And isn't that what we really want -- a warm feeling about being bootlickers? It's all I want. All any Leftist wants. It's paternalism, that's what I meant. It's a Latin thing.and ohh . . . . sooo . . . soooo . . . fuerte! Not like our wimpy Amerikan way of doing things.

ALB: So after 60 hours with Castro, you don't have the slightest idea about anything having to do with him, Cuba, or the world, right? what do you make of this man?

OS: I'm totally awed by his ability to survive and maintain a strong moral presence … almost as awed as I am by my ability to say that without being hit by lightning.
and we ignore him now at our peril if we start another war with Cuba. It'll be like all the other military disasters I predicted . . . the long, bloody war in Grenada . . . . the years we spent taking Panama City . . . the hundred-thousand US casualties on the way to Baghdad . . . all those men, Bishop, Noriega, Saddam -- they all had that same ability to survive and strong moral presence. You can't beat that. THE PEOPLE! UNITED! WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED! They teach you things like that at Yale, you know. It's why the State Department is always so wise.

ALB: You say we ignore him at our peril. Given the fact that JFK tried to assassinate him, then tried to invade Cuba to get rid of him, then tried to assasinate him again, and given the fact that the US constantly embargoes Cuba, and given the fact that Castro features in every single speech given by every single presidential candidate to get within 1,000 miles of Miami It seems to me that we're obsessed with him.

OS: No, I think the focus is wrong. It's a bad shot, needs a re-take. Fast, tight close-up of his boooots. . . . . Fidel He told me to call him that! [Sigh] All his Cuban children call him that, "Fidel" -- they say it so naturally, like, "Fidel never personally shoots anyone," or "Fidel visited a functioning hospital today, I wish my child who has leukemia could go to one." It's very touching. is not the revolution, believe me. Fidel is popular, whatever the whole country says when the power goes out and the bugs stop working his enemies say. It's Zapata, remember that movie? They made us watch it at Yale, back in ‘52. It was the text for our graduate seminar on American foreign policy. He said, "A strong people don't need a strong leader."Then he said, "STELLLAAAAAAAA . . . " and I thought about how meaningless the Amerikan dream is. We really got stoned that night.

ALB: So you really are dumb enough to think that if he went off the scene the revolution would continue?

OS: If Mr. Bush and I call him that, "Mr. Bush," to show the world I have nothing in common with him while at the same time maintaining my awesome, bootlicking dignity and his people have the illusion which, at present, is gained only from Castro's propaganda about an immanent Yanqui invasion that can only be stopped by rallying to Fidel and not wasting time trying to get your child with leukemia to a functioning hospital, propaganda that I personally swallow like chocolate milk that they're going to walk into an Iraq-type situation, and people are going to throw up their arms and welcome us, [they are] dead wrong. These people are committed. Like Panama's glorious National Guard! Like the Cuban troops who wet their pants at the first Semper Fi! they heard on Grenada. Like Saddam's Fedayeen! Like all the oppressed fremen who take up arms against the Amerikan Satan! It's like Dune, remember that movie? He said, "Long live the fighters!" Castro has become a spiritual leaderthe god-surrogate dejour for empty, nihilistic types who are attracted by the instant synergism of marketing, fashionable rebellion, and power He will always be a Mao to those people. It's like The Godfather, remember that movie? He said, "You can act like a Mao!"

ALB: Did you ask him about his relationship with Juanita in Miami? That's to jog your synapse, Ollie -- there's lots of Juanitas, but think, think hard -- Castro + Juanita + Miami equals . . . . .

OS: God, I don't remember. There were so many friendly . . . and all they wanted was food. Imagine that! In Amerika, we have all these hangups, all these laws, but in Cuba it's different, more spiritual somehow . . . .

ALB: Sigh . . . Juanita is his stupid moron!

OS: Huh? Juanita's his sister? ... Huh? He seemed to be a very straight-shooter, very kind of shy with women.There, does that get me off the hook?

ALB: I've called him the movie star dictator. Did you get that sense about him? Poor man . . . well he can't flub this one, it's a softball . . . .

OS: Totally. I think it would be a mistake to see him as a Ceausescu. Because, you know, he's not French and doesn't like the ocean. It's like Flipper, remember that movie? He said, "Flipper, flipper, faster than lightning!" I would compare him more to Reagan and Clinton. …You think I'm partisan? Take that!!!! I can use "Reagan" and "Clinton" in the same sentence, because both of them were totalitarians -- Regan because he didn't support abortion, Clinton because he didn't make sure every woman had one! They were both tall and had great shoulders, and so does Fidel.But Clinton's shoes were, well, sort of dry and sour. They didn't have that sultry, tropical boquet you get when you lick Fidel's boots. Don't ask me about Reagan, he wouldn't let me.

ALB: For the second film, because being a moron means never having to say you're wrong you received permission to see the dissidents Osvaldo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, and Elizardo Sanchez. They spoke critically of the government. Which means they were dissidents, as in Castro not happy about them, and I hope you're not as embarassed as I am with the fact that I have to explain your own damn movie to you. Obviously, that couldn't have happened unless permission for them to see you was granted, right? What do you make of Castro allowing that to happen?

OS: I don't think he was happy with it. But he had no choice! He had to order the Cuban Congress to order him to let me do it! I don't think he wants to be in the same film with Uh . . . ummm . . . . who's that guy you named? . . . . papaya, peyote . . . oh, yeah! I got it! Paya. In his mind they are faux dissidents.It's like, Being John Malkovich, remember that movie? He said, uh, like anyhow it was in his mind, get it?

ALB: He actually calls them faux dissidents? He called them the so-called dissidents? And, Ollie, would you mind not twirling your hair? It's distracting.

OS: Yeah, so-called, right. sure, whatever, you think I took notes or something? I was in Soviet Russia to lick Yuri Andropov's boots for a script in 1983, and I interviewed 20 dissidents in 12 cities. I really got an idea of dissidents that was much rougher than here. These people in Cuba were nothing compared to what I saw in Russia. I mean, you expect dissidents to be nasty, disgusting people. Evil people, like Sakharov, Walesa, Vaclav Havel . . . crappy people like that, but these Soviet faux dissidents were boy scouts compared to the scum in Fidel's jails!

ALB: Did you ever use your single synapse think to bring up why he doesn't hold a presidential election?

OS: I did. I got all the words in order and everything! He said something to the effect, "We have elections."That was the word on the list my producer gave me -- "Elections?" -- so when he said it I put a big black checkmark next to it just like I was told [Smiles brightly].

ALB: Local representative elections. But what about a presidential election?

OS: Huh? Shut up! We didn't talk about it, especially in view of the fact that our own 2000 elections were a little bit discredited.So, like, I was both patriotic for not giving Castro a shot at us and righteous for letting him slide because Al Gore didn't win. Gee, am I a paragon of justice or what!

ALB: In the first root canal film, Comandante, he asked you, "Is it so bad to be a dictator?" Did you redline your synapse think you should have responded to that question?

OS: I don't think that was the place to do it. To start with, he's got armed guards -- he doesn't personally shoot anyone, you know. And there's only that one functioning hospital, and also my tongue was stuck to his upper sole and that made it hard to talk. … You know, dictator or tyrant, those words are used very easily. Especially if you practice them in front of a mirror, over and over again. Not like the Pledge of Allegiance, or the lyrics to God Bless America -- those are impossible pronounce! In the Greek political system, democracy didn't work out that well. And that should be a lesson to red Amerika! There were what they called benevolent dictators back in those days. Yeah, that's it . . . like, um, Pericles Benevolent Dictator, and then there was Alexander Benevolent Dictator, and the other "B.D.s" like Socrates . . . . Gyros . . . Onasis . . . .

ALB: And you think he might be in that category?

OS: Well, not benevolent to everybody, no. But on the other hand, he doesn't personally shoot anyone, and that's benevolent, in a way.

ALB: Can't it be said in fact that you're a drooling idiot who's easily manipulated by image-savvy totalitarians? Castro is quite cynical—the master debater, master lawyer?

OS: Well, nobody's perfect. That's a fact, Jack!

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