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For much of the past four years, Oliver Stone has been working on a 10-part documentary series for Showtime, The Untold History of the United States.
The series — whose budget has gone up from about $3 million to $5 million — has consumed about $1 million of his own cash, he says, and is likely to be as inflammatory as his previous documentaries, including 2004’s Looking for Fidel (an interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro) and 2009’s South of the Border (which largely centers on Venezuela President Hugo Chavez).
“It’s been exhausting to write,” says Stone, who’s working on an accompanying book with historian Peter Kuznik that, like the series, follows crucial events and players including the New Deal, World War II, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama.
“We’ve changed its shape” over the years, he notes. “I’ve been playing with the structure because I want young people to follow it. One time, I was flashing back to the Spanish-American War and World War I, then those things got cut.”
What hasn’t been cut is Stone’s focus on “the crazy foreign policy we have,” he says. The series, which airs in November, also re-evaluates American heroes like President Eisenhower. Referring to his speech about a growing military-industrial complex, he says: “It was one of the best things he did. But the facts are completely different because he was the creator of the military-industrial complex galore. Under his reign, 27,000 nuclear bombs were built.”
Stone also confronts the U.S. perception of the Cold War. “When you find the motivations and what the Soviets’ intentions were, it’s a completely different story than what we get,” he argues. “And that’s what we get into, and it’s a big idea.”
A big idea not all will embrace — though Stone insists the fact-checking has been extensive, and Showtime has imposed its own fact-checkers.
“I know it’s going to have a resonance, even if sometimes it’s 20 years later,” he says. “Like Heaven and Earth. It hurt me so much when that film went and crashed because I loved it. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
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