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Oliver Stone: talking points vs. incoherent brilliance.

Oliver Stone: talking points vs. incoherent brilliance. (photo)

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Oliver Stone is making headlines again with the Cannes premiere of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which is receiving generally unkind reviews (including this one, from Indie Eye contributor Anthony Kaufman). For fans of “JFK” and (more controversially) “Nixon,” Stone’s long, precipitous decline from unignorable firestarter to HuffPo talking points regurgitator has been rather unpleasant to watch: he’s gone from stirring people up to preaching to the choir. Regardless of how interested you still are in the “Wall Street” sequel — it sounds impressively of the moment if nothing else — there’s no chance that, say, Barack Obama is going to weigh in on it.

Such was not the case in 1991, when Stone dropped “JFK” and the world briefly went crazy. “JFK” was so compelling and attention-demanding that even George Bush briefly felt it necessary to back up the Warren Commission. Stone’s stated intention was to create a “counter-myth,” one that would get at “the true inner spiritual meaning of an event.” In other words, “JFK” isn’t just a spitball PowerPoint presentation of facts, but an attempt to probe and poke at cultural trauma.

05172010_jfk.jpg“JFK” came three years after Don DeLillo’s “Libra,” a novel pivoting around Lee Harvey Oswald that presented its own powerful counter-myth, one in which Oswald isn’t just his own self-proclaimed patsy but a man who constantly envisions himself as a man who intersects with history. In military jail, he thinks of himself in those terms: “He tried to feel history in the cell. This was history out of George Orwell, the territory of no-choice. He could see how he’d been headed here since the day he was born.”

Allegedly, Stone tried to block an adaptation (something he denied), but he needn’t have bothered: the book’s basically unfilmable, and in any case Stone and DeLillo weren’t really worried about the same things. DeLillo builds to the moment of assassination: Stone is always looking back at it, wondering what it did to people of his generation. DeLillo sees history building to a head by men convinced they’re agents of destiny; Stone sees history as entropy and uncontrollable darkness. How it happened is less important than how it lingers.

What both had in common was the willingness to create a counter-myth out of conjecture. The brilliance of “JFK” lies in its ability to engage even when it’s contradicting and doubling in on itself: it doesn’t make any sense except culturally, getting inside the ways in which the events of November 22, 1963 warped the American psyche. You’re right there, struggling alongside Stone.

05172010_nixon.jpg“Nixon,” though more flawed, goes even further in this direction. The ghost of JFK looms heavy here — never clearer in a shot near the end of a now-disgraced Nixon standing in a darkened room while a portrait of JFK glowers behind him — but Nixon is also portrayed as a product of a post-assassination machine of vague, dark forces operating with Pynchonian shadowiness. Nixon is both a man and a tool: “You couldn’t stop it even if you wanted to, could you?” a young protester yells at him, and that’s true to Stone’s vision. He can sometimes go Too Far — it’s hard to swallow the scene where Chairman Mao informs Nixon they’re both motivated by the same sickness — but again, he’s grappling with a political moment whose cultural significance is more in its lasting resonance than the oft-labyrinthine details.

What’s wrong with “W.” — and, by all reliable accounts, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is that Stone’s gone from grappling to asserting. He has the facts and he’s going to fire them at you: it’s a history of flat assertions and statistics, researched and presented in argumentative form. The claim of “W.” is that Stone has Figured It Out, when, in fact, he was bluffing: it’s pop history unfolding inside a vaccuum, disconnected from any sense of public impact. Time and distance is called for, but Stone seems to think he’s ready to explain events in real time. But that’s not where his genius lies (or lay, anyway): it’s in picking apart the events as they metastasize into traumatic myth.

[Photos: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “JFK,” 1991, Warner Bros.; “Nixon,” Buena Vista, 1995.]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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