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Oliver Stone's Gospel of America

The Oscar winner wants to rescue us from the "tyranny of now."


To narrate Showtime's new miniseries, Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States, Stone grew a suspicious mustache. It's as if the notoriously conspiratorial director convinced himself he was about to expose such establishment-shattering revelations that he needed some semblance of a disguise.

In a hushed tone of whispered solemnity and gravel-throated gravitas reminiscent of Christian Bale as Batman, Stone announces that he wants to rescue us from the "tyranny of now" and correct the "fog" of lies we've been told since grade-school.

Stone then goes on to completely deflate our expectations. Instead of infusing the tedium of conventional history with gloriously preposterous theories about FDR being a time-traveling communist alien-vampire, he drones on about Henry Wallace's vice presidency for untold minutes during the first two episodes.

In short, there's no need for the mustache.

The visual presentation is stellar, replete with oddly incongruous images of historical footage, fictional film clips, gloriously bad recreations, and--in one case--Nazis on a merry-go-round. Stone frequently quotes philosophical, musical, theological and artistic luminaries over superbly crafted and paced visual/musical beats.

But he occasionally throws in pathological emphases on historical minutiae that may or may not be true--"eating soups made of glue from wallpaper or rats or fellow human beings"--and what-if scenarios left for the viewer to interpret. Anybody can do that.

Those bored by history classes probably won't get excited about Stone intoning, "Less than two weeks after the pact was signed, Hitler invaded Poland from the west."

As for those who condemn Stone for portraying himself as anti-authoritarian when he ends up sympathizing with dictatorial regimes, he doesn't do anything to ease the disdain--especially when he essentially attributes the victory of WWII to "Mother Russia."

The show was originally titled Oliver Stone's Secret History of America. It would be far more interesting to see Oliver Stone's Secret Future of America. That way, we would know for sure whether he's the modern-day Nostradamus or the Y2K of Hollywood directors.