American Presidents and Oliver Stone (Book)

Kennedy, Nixon, and Bush between History and Cinema

In American Presidents and Oliver Stone, Carl Freedman synthesizes historical analysis of three American presidents with detailed criticism of the Oliver Stone films – JFK, Nixon and W. – that transmute these presidencies into works of historical fiction. 

Category: Film Studies


Perhaps no current filmmaker has made more provocative films about American history than Oliver Stone. In this book, Carl Freedman gives a detailed and nuanced account of the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush as fictionalized in Stone’s biographical films JFK, Nixon, and W. Synthesizing film criticism with political and historical analysis, American Presidents and Oliver Stone transcends the limitations of formalism and empiricism, reflecting on both Stone’s achievements as a filmmaker and American politics of the past sixty years. 

Offering detailed historical perspectives alongside careful aesthetic criticism, Freedman explores how Stone uses melodrama, tragedy, and farce to transform politics into national mythology. Wide-ranging, accessible, and highly original, American Presidents is sure to engage anyone interested in the intersection of American politics and cinema.




Carl Freedman is the William A. Read Professor of English Literature and a Distinguished Research Master at Louisiana State University. He is the author of many books, most recently Art and Idea in the Novels of China Miéville and Versions of Hollywood Crime Cinema: Studies in Ford, Wilder, Coppola, Scorsese, and Others, also published by Intellect.




To Assassinate a Movie

JFK:  American Melbourne

Precursor-Texts:  Rashomon and Citizen Kane

JFK:  Conspiracy

JFK:  Father-Leader

JFK:  Son-Avenger


From Kennedy to Nixon

From Melodrama to Tragedy

From JFK to Nixon

Nixon:  Personal Tragedy

Nixon:  National Tragedy

Nixon:  American Tragedy



From Tragedy to Farce

W.:  The Man

W.:  The War


It shines through in virtually every paragraph that Freedman knows his subject(s) (Stone, recent US history and history writing) from decades of engagement ... This book has the potential to become not only a great source on its subject, but a model of how to approach historical fiction in general

Daniel Lindvall, Editor-in-Chief, Film International

When movies present biographies, and real historical events, especially fairly recent ones, they are usually regarded either in terms of their historical accuracy or lack of accuracy, or else in terms of their expressive, aesthetic qualities. It is very hard to balance between these opposed imperatives. But in this manuscript, Freedman threads the needle with extraordinary success ... A powerful critical reflection on Stone’s achievements as a filmmaker, and a deeply insightful reflection on American politics of the past sixty years ... The manuscript’s careful attention to detail, combined with its broad vision and explanatory scope, make it an impressive and indeed essential book.

Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University.
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