Why does Oliver Stone hate America?
The director’s new series on Showtime, entitled “The Putin Interviews,” is initially totally fascinating. You actually get to hear Russian President Vladimir Putin talk at length and watch riveting and smoothly opaque responses to questions about his remarkable rise. You get the sense Putin feels comfortable around Mr. Stone, who adopts the persona of a sort of bumbling history professor. Rumpled jacket with elbow patches, messed up hair. Authenticity, man.
The roving camera work removes a lot of the old artifice of regular lame broadcast TV interviews or static documentaries.
Putin says when Boris Yeltsin initially chose him as Prime Minister, he was worried for his family’s safety, and for his lifestyle. It’s great personal detail and cool footage. Bravo.
Then comes the cozying-up. Stone rattles off the great accomplishments of Putin’s early years in power. including his prosecution of the war in Chechnya. There is no real mention of the atrocities that occurred in the name of putting down “terrorists” who said they were fighting for independence.
Putin is allowed to claim that upon assuming power he quickly implemented reforms in an attempt to make things more equal. That was really about encouraging those oligarchs who made their money by dint of their talent to thrive, according to Putin. As opposed to those who got rich from “schemes” or their “relationships to government,” which is bad, says Putin.
It’s maddeningly ironic revisionist history. A relationship with Putin, and a willingness to pay him, are of paramount importance for Russia’s oligarchy. Oligarchs may have a sick pad in Mayfair and a couple hundred million stashed in Malta, but the serious assets in Russia are all Putin’s because he can take them back, anytime. Again, not an inkling of skepticism from Stone. For folks who perhaps don’t think much about Russia, and are just watching at home on the second glass of wine, it’s all very palatable. For anyone who has read about Putin for the last 15 years or actually met a Russian, the program (Stone calls it a “film” in the opening credits) is a remarkable white-washing.
You’re sort of waiting for Stone to let Putin hang himself, but this isn’t Michael Jackson being seduced into talking about the beauty of sleeping with children during what the star thought was a water break. It’s just a very, very interesting one-sided film. Then it’s fellatio. Then it turns pretty anti-American.
Then comes the discussion of the great interregnum, in which Putin officially became Prime Minister. Putin is allowed, totally unchallenged in the interview or any voice-over, to declare that Dmitry Medvedev was actually an independent President of Russia who ruled alone, “without interference.”
“The law is always the law…that’s our principle,” says the Russian President, who famously used manufactured charges to throw the billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky into jail because he dared to criticize Putin and resisted paying his share of the spoils to the Kremlin as tribute.
Putin is allowed to advance his thesis that Americans have always wanted to incite rebel forces against Russia, back to the Soviet war in Afghanistan and then again in Chechnya. Putin claims it still continues. And then, astoundingly, after trying to goad Putin into declaring what the U.S. really wants vis a vis Russia, Stone just flat out states that the real goal of American policy is likely to weaken Russia, drive it back to the stone age, and take the nukes.
Safety for Americans? A world order creating prosperity? Nah.
Will they be doing the next show about Putin’s rape of his country’s wealth? His disregard for freedom when it’s inconvenient? His assassinations? His spy craft to screw up the USA?
The world could use an alternate view of the U.S.-Russia dynamic. And a deeper understanding of the incredibly fascinating and powerful Putin is a fine goal, which makes pretty good TV. But the real problem here is that Stone is very good at what he does. It’s like a faux Forest Gump with an agenda.
(Steve Alperin is the CEO of DSA Digital Holdings)