Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #3 (February 20)

by Marcia Pally

February 20, 1996

Oliver Stone makes ugly heroes. He became famous for his picture of ugly Americans in the third world (Salvador, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July), ugly Americans on Wall Street (Wall Street), hate-radio hosts (Talk Radio), and more lately has painted the abusive, booze-slogging, dope-toking rocker Jim Morrison (The Doors), presidential assassins (JFK), and serial murderers (Natural Born Killers). The only place a likable guy can be found is in Heaven and Earth, and there the guy is a girl and the movie lacks all punch, except in one scene about abusive, dope-toking ugly American GIs. Now Stone has made Nixon, about a fellow who had a talent for making ugly scenes uglier.

Through all this thankless muckraking, Stone has become wildly popular with the public (they can look at his heroes and say, I may be a thickening, beer-slogging, junk-food-chugging, loud lout, who's sold out his dreams for a VCR, but I am not as bad as THEM). Yet he has become steadily unpopular with the U.S. film press--the higher brow the press (Chardonnay rather than beer) the greater the disdain. On Nixon's release in the U.S., film critics of an intellectual cut raced to say what a mess the film was. (I am one of the few critics with letters after her name that liked it--in public. I am one of the few girl critics of any sort that liked it.) The film is over the top, the Chardonnay set said--though they said it rather loudly for a white-wine crowd. Undaunted, Stone goes on, making films about unlovable heroes. Perhaps he does so because he himself feels so unloved: what could be more deflating than the disdain of critics who don't do Big Mac. Or perhaps he is unloved for the same reasons that his heroes are.

Oliver Stone is the Camille Paglia of filmmakers. Paglia is a feminist professor and author famous for her 718-page Sexual Personae praising the pagan, which for some reason she believes women should embrace. She has earned the disdain of other feminists who say she is over the top. She irritates me because she is not: she says what scores of solid scholars have said for the last 30 years yet pretends she is the first to say it. More importantly, she writes with an exclamation point at the end of every sentence (often literally, always figuratively) and I cannot stand the din. At bottom, Paglia is not satisfied to have good ideas within feminist scholarship: she wants to be Don Corleone. She wants the rages within her breast to be writ large, and so does Stone.

His films are indeed over the top, as are his heroes. Watching his camerawork is like wrestling with a baby hippo. But Stone, like Paglia, has good ideas, and his outrageousness, like hers, is often the burr under the ass that quieter works are not. If one wants a quieter film about modern corruption, see Lamerica (about Albania since the fall of the Soviet Union) which has the pacing and silent power of an avalanche. But to appreciate Lamerica, one need not dismiss Stone. Only those afraid that their voices squeak fear his boom.

Stone is a boy; boys are noisy. Paglia said so, and when she did, people heard it.

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