American Presidents and Oliver Stone is now available!
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.
Offering detailed historical perspectives alongside careful aesthetic criticism, Freedman explores how Stone uses melodrama, tragedy and farce to transform politics into national mythology. Synthesizing film criticism with political and historical analysis, the book transcends the limitations of formalism and empiricism, reflecting on both Stone’s achievements as a filmmaker and American politics of the past sixty years.
Oliver Stone’s importance among filmmakers as the major chronicler of recent US history is the starting point for the analysis of his three ‘presidential’ films: JFK, Nixon and W. While not claiming equal artistic merit for Stone’s films, Freedman makes some comparison with Shakespeare’s history plays and draws on T.S. Eliot’s notion of ‘essential history’ to transcend the barren dichotomy of formalism versus empiricism – that is treating historical fiction as either only pure fiction, with nothing to say about real history, or judging it as non-fiction by the extent to which it adheres to superficial historical detail. Instead the focus is on the capacity of Stone’s films to illuminate the structural workings of history, contemporary and general.
Freedman is thoroughly familiar with his subject, and his meticulous attention to historical accuracy and critical attention to the films is impeccable. This book has a powerfully original focus and makes a significant contribution to the field through offering these detailed historical perspectives alongside much more careful aesthetic criticism of the films. It has the potential to become not only a great source on its subject, but a model of how to approach historical fiction in general.
This is an academic study but is written in such an accessible style that it will have genuine appeal to the general reader – to anyone with an interest in cinema, politics and recent history. Wide-ranging, accessible and highly original, American Presidents combines erudition and complex analysis with jargon-free writing and is sure to engage anyone interested in the intersection of American politics and cinema.
The academic readership will be among humanities scholars and students of film, popular culture, media, politics, political history and modern history. It will be highly relevant to undergraduate and postgraduate students studying film or modern American history and culture.