Current Screening: The Untold History of the United States
I eagerly watched the first 3 parts of Oliver Stone’s much anticipated new documentary film that were available so far on Showtime last night, expecting some real eye opening moments. As much as I love and admire Ollie, I must confess there wasn’t one untold fact to be had in all three hours. I waited and waited for even one tidbit of “untold” fact or detail — even something I already knew would have been welcomed. But no such luck. Pretty straight forward & by the book U.S. revisionist history. Common knowledge stuff. Especially in comparison to what’s commonly already known in the activist community, i.e. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History…”, et al.
There were grand omissions throughout, such as Roosevelt’s foreknowledge of Japan’s plans to bomb Pearl Harbor well before it transpired; as if Stone wanted his opening gambit to appear soft and innocuous so as not to frighten away the majority of viewers. One might give him the benefit of doubt and assume his treating the nation’s dubious history with kid gloves was a calculated effort to lure more viewers in at the start and hope he will be more even handed and honest in later installments.
In case anyone feels compelled to excuse this fact by asserting that “no one could possibly cover all of American history in a mere ten hours”, let us remember that was never the stated intention of this piece; it calls itself “the UNtold history of the United States.” Stone and company spend so much time expounding upon commonly known history that they don’t leave room for any “untold history.” The last thing America needs is yet another book or documentary recounting the same old tired stories that are already solidly founded in the public domain of America’s psyche. [see the 30 hour Lawrence Olivier narrated World War II documentary for example].
Secondly, though It portends by its title to be a general history of America, he opens this “American history” in the mid-1930s, a perplexing choice, omitting hundreds of years of the country’s most interesting untold stories. That would make sense if the book/film were titled …: 1935 to 2012. But it’s not.
Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that Stone, being an ex-military man himself, focuses 95% of his take on history to covering stories of war and conquest. Contextually, knowing Stone’s background, this makes perfect sense. But again it’s misleading considering the broad scope of the work’s title.
I think the best thing that can be said about it thus far is that at the very least it serves as a pleasant introduction to U.S. military history 1101 covering the years 1935 to present day for the layman. But if one doesn’t venture past this work and leaves their learning here, they would be left with mere semi-factual scraps compared to the most important elements of America’s untold history.
Like the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine film and album, if you could call it that, this is one of those examples of something that held great promise because of the artist and the subject matter (and no small amount of hype by the studio, production company and distribution company), but ended up being far less than expected. One can hope though that the appearance of such a work and the ensuing interest in it by the public at large might inspire others to attempt a similar project who would desire to be more thorough and revealing in the quest to serve the title of the piece more accurately and legitimately. In time I’m sure it will happen. In the meantime this film isn’t “bad”; it’s a nice start for those who want to gain a modest understanding and foundational knowledge of what’s already being taught in America’s high school classrooms.
Recommended companion resources: A People’s History of the United States, None Dare Call It Genocide, They Dare To Speak Out — for starters at the least.