Just why’s Oliver Stone Captain America?
It’s an irony possible only in popular fiction: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a Wall Street tomb raider, almost overnight, becomes god for an entire generation. Because he says greed, for lack of a better word, is good; a good sell is always better than sex. Love’s a myth made up to keep people from committing suicide. And if you need a friend, you get a dog. “It’s all about (the) bucks, kid. The rest is conversation.”
I can’t speak for cultures outside of the urban Indian middleclass in the late ‘80s, and early ‘90s. But there were several families with kids in college or high school back then, restless in their early ambitions, scouting around clueless for a suitable idol. They’d had it with whatever their parents’ Nehruvian austerity had brought home. They found sufficient comfort in the line ‘Greed Is Good’, displayed on their wall, alongside poster of Madonna in a see-through black suit gifted them by Pepsi that had just entered Indian stores with similarly loved American freebies: Fido Dido stickers, pop albums, rave wristbands….
The words on the wall were murmurs in the bedrooms of the young; somewhat defined their lives thereafter. There was a new India waiting at the door finally let a little open to the winds and economies outside. Most of these kids were through with college. They all ran en masse toward Gekko and his protégé Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). They certainly never cared for Bud’s dad (Martin Sheen) who cautioned them from the same film: “Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”
Most of these kids, and brightest of them, eyed investment banking and management consultancies for their chosen careers. Few cared for engineering or medicine; fewer still wished to manufacture goods or serve the state (something the educated Indian had doggedly followed for generations before). The present one was instead smitten by Gekko’s “zero sum game, (where) somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.” And that gentleman offering the advice was meant to be the villain of Oliver Stone’s 1987 piece. America recognised him, albeit mildly, only two decades after!
If you study American society carefully, I strongly suspect, you can figure the theatre of the Indian upperclass 20 years hence. The latter organically follows the former, in some way or the other. Few directors in cinema have at once defined and questioned contemporary America for the world in the entertaining form Oliver Stone has.
Hollywood makes movies for an entire globe, and that’s a tricky cultural problem to overcome. While it makes them save the world with heroes predominantly white and aliens who speak fluent English, it also forces them to exchange personal politics in favour of a universal, illiterate populism. Stone has still relentlessly represented America’s ‘national cinema’ (a flawed term of European art-house), when none need exist.
If contemporary history of the United States were to be viewed by our children many years from now, few history books should replace Stone’s enormously pleasurable and incisive films. At least I haven’t seen a more popular indictment of crony, paperless capitalism than Wall Street (and it was a thriller set in a stock exchange, for God’s sake!).
Very few have explained the underbelly of rock stardom through an area of interest like Jim Morrison, and a moving tribute like The Doors (1991). It may be hard to mirror America’s military excesses, where old men talk and young men die, as Stone managed in Platoon (1986) and Born On The Fourth Of July (1989). The second film also revealed an equally significant American truth: even Tom Cruise can act!
There couldn’t have been a better instance of cinema’s influence on a ruling establishment when, after JFK (1991) and the public outcry, Stone addressed the American Senate over the continued secrecy of documents relating to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The government was caught off-guard. They began to make documents public. It seemed a lot smoother than activists fasting unto death over Right to Information Act in India.
WTC (2007) seemed rather pointless and disappointing merely because you expected better from America’s best political filmmaker reacting to America’s biggest political event. He played it dull and safe, perhaps too conscious of pricking a wound that hadn’t healed yet. And then there’s Nixon, arguably Stone’s best political text. About a decade and half after, it serves as timely testimonial on the unimportance of being Bush, Obama or whoever follows. The anonymous Party inevitably rules the world.
Stone’s a sworn Leftist, sympathetic to Chavez, Castro, has been accused of statement that mildly reeks of Anti-Semitism, makes a case for Hitler, Mao… Everything that America stands against. It’s the beauty of the Establishment that profits so well from a voice that opposes itself. There’s something irreversibly deadening about age if it calms your passions down. Opinion that riles up no one up is PR pap.
Stone is 57 now. Over the past few years, he has seemed a director quietly losing his sensational touch. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps this weekend finally proves he’s back. So is Gordon Gekko, in a new world that must now deal with “Mumbai, Dumbai”, the Chinese, the Brazilians…. America’s not the same anymore. Nice to hear from you again, Mr Stone.