Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Netflix streaming tip: Oliver Stone's THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is more than worth its twelve-hour running time


If you are familiar with certain "alternative" history books that cover the real story of the U.S.A. -- say, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States -- or peruse the pages of the progressive magazine, The Nation, much that you'll see and hear in the new documentary series, THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, will be familiar. But this does not mean that you won't be any less hooked by this excellent piece of sifting/judging/reporting of much that has happened down the decades, even as the U.S. public was being told the opposite.

Director and co-writer (with Matt Graham and Peter Kuznick) Oliver Stone, shown at right, has (or at least had) a reputation for outrage and in-your-face moviemaking that has been tamped down considerably here. This is all to the good, since Stone and his team are telling us things that many Americans will not want to hear or accept, and so his careful rendering and explaining (it's Stone's quiet, measured and easy-to-listen-to voice we mostly hear narrating), interspersed with those of many of the historical figures -- from the greatly-known (like Churchill, Stalin and Hitler) to the less-so but, it turns out, vitally important to know and understand, such as Roosevelt's Vice-President Henry Wallace (two photos below) and a certain popular and greatly-decorated soldier named Smedley Butler (just below), who served the U.S. in war after war but who finally took stock of his own career by saying that he had continually served the interests of the corporations and the powerful rather than those of the American people.

That the USA is still serving those interests, as much today as then, is a large part of the series' theme, and the filmmakers flesh this out with plenty of ammunition and panache. Much of the information presented us is verifiable, and when it is conjecture, it is backed up with enough history and reasoning to pass muster.

It is not a pretty picture of the USA as any kind of leader regarding democracy -- neither here at home nor worldwide. It has of course outraged the conservative right, but it should prove a near-perfect entry into the upcoming "reign" of Donald Trump. At the end of that reign, it will be interesting to see, if any of us still remain, how much of what we learned here was practiced all over again -- enriching the wealthy, corporate and powerful while leaving the rest of us further bereft.

Caveats: I could have done with much less interspersing of movie clips throughout. The series does not need these, and they merely call attention to their own "fictional" feel. Some of what we see, thanks to the organization of the series, is repetitive. And while it appears to end with a moving and rousing tenth chapter, there are actually two more -- eleven and twelve -- that are very much worth seeing, even if some of these final two hours, particularly the last, is initially quite repetitive. Yet there is so much important information to be gained here, too, that I was very glad I'd finished the entire twelve chapters.

Originally made for Showtime, with a few early chapters making their debut at The New York Film Festival a few years back, the entire series, running nearly twelve hours, is available now to stream on Netflix. It is worth every one of those hours.

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