Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Oliver Stone's America
Studio Line: Warner Bros.

An intriguing one-on-one with the director behind the movies, an insightful interview augmented with clips and photos from his films and personal life.

Director: Charles Kiselyak
Cast: Oliver Stone
DVD: Fullscreen 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 1 chapter; Not Rated; 52 min.; street date 1/16/01.
Supplements: Stoneís New York University Student Film Last Year In Viet Nam; Stone Biography.
Purchase: Oliver Stone Collection 10-Pack | Oliver Stone Collection 6-Pack

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/B-/C

Although I canít claim to love - or even like - most of his films, I canít deny the strong impression Oliver Stone has made on movies. The new ďOliver Stone CollectionĒ packages - available in both six-DVD and ten-DVD varieties - both provide solid compendiums of his career, and we also find a recap of Stoneís work in a program called Oliver Stoneís America.

Found in both ďOS CollectionĒ packages, America provides an extended interview with Stone. Conducted by Charles Kiselyak, this conversation occupies the vast majority of the program. At times clips from Stoneís films appear, and we also see a smidgen of footage from various sets.

Despite those extra components, the focus is squarely on Stone and his remarks. As anyone whoís listened to his audio commentaries can attest, the man likes to talk, and he also presents himself as very open and honest; Stone can be self-aggrandizing but he nonetheless usually seems very frank.

Unfortunately, his more pretentious and arrogant sides are largely on display here, ably supported by Kiselyakís softball questions. It appears that Kiselyak firmly buys into the Stone view of the world, and his queries feed into Stoneís ďme against the systemĒ mentality. Both men firmly support the notion that theyíre smarter and more aware than anybody else - especially the much-hated critics - and if you donít adore Stoneís films, you must be a dunderhead.

No, they donít say this specifically, though Stone comes close when he rants about the stupidity of todayís youth. Frankly, I think Stone believes too much of his hype, and that attitude comes through during this interview. You get the impression he feels heís the only honest and relevant filmmaker today - and maybe ever - and that everyone else is just a tool.

Essentially America is little more than a vehicle in which we hear Stone discuss his thoughts about film and society. This isnít necessarily a bad thing, but I disliked it for two reasons. First, Stone covers a lot of this territory during his various audio commentaries; Iíve only heard three of the seven available to me, and yet I felt like Iíd already heard most of what he had to say.

Second, we get little feel for Stoneís career. Thereís a smidgen of conversation about his early years and he occasionally discusses some aspects of particular films, but the program lacked much cohesiveness. Perhaps my disappointment stemmed from my own expectations; I thought Iíd get a nice overview of Stoneís career to date. However, instead I found a moderately interesting though heavy-handed discourse on whatís right with Stone and whatís wrong with everybody else.

Ultimately thatís my biggest problem with Oliver Stoneís America - perhaps it should have been renamed Oliver Stoneís Oliver Stone since Oliver! is already taken. Stone is clearly a passionate and intelligent filmmaker, and since Iíve taken in his remarks about his movies, Iíve come to have a greater appreciation of his work. However, his attitude in this program seemed too self-glorifying and left me cold for the most part. Iíll listen to his various audio commentaries again, but I doubt Oliver Stoneís America will re-enter my DVD player in the future.

The DVD:

Oliver Stoneís America appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Actually, the aspect ratio varies somewhat due to all of the film clips used; most of the program features 1.33:1, but we also see some examples of 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.

Documentaries such as this can be tough to grade because of the variety of sources utilized. The only consistent component was the interview footage, which appeared to have been shot on videotape. I found that these portions presented a solid but unexceptional image. Sharpness looked fairly crisp and detailed for the most part, especially since the focus usually stayed with close-ups. However, when wider angles were used, the picture often seemed slightly soft and fuzzy.

Otherwise, the interview snippets looked fine. Colors appeared warm and accurate, and black levels were appropriately dark. The source material betrayed no evidence of noticeable flaws.

The same could not be said for the film clips, all of which displayed much more erratic quality. These often showed heavy colors and offered very heavy levels of jagged edges and moirť effects; the snippets seemed as though they suffered from excessive edge enhancement. Since most are brief, and their quality wasnít extremely important - I donít think the visual presentation is the biggest deal for this sort of documentary - the flaws werenít fatal, but I must admit the variations made it harder for me to focus on the programís content; some of the shifts were jarring enough to briefly throw me out of sync.

More consistent was the quality of the documentaryís Dolby Surround audio. Some of this consistency stemmed from the soundís lack of ambition. Not surprisingly, most of the audio was virtually monaural, since the majority of the content offered spoken comments. Movie clips offered modest stereo sound but didnít seem to represent their original tracks. The only really interesting audio came from some music added to the documentary. Those pieces provided strong stereo separation and also were reinforced nicely by the surrounds.

Anyway, I donít fault the program for its lack of ambition, since a screaming surround track would appear inappropriate for this sort of production. Audio quality appeared fine. Most importantly, Stoneís comments were clear and distinct with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. The added score was similarly bright and rich and complemented the program nicely. All in all, the audio worked well for this sort of show.

Although America itself can be considered a supplement, it also includes some extras of its own. Most significant is Last Year In Viet Nam, a student film Stone completed after his wartime experience. Shot in black and white, the 12-minute movie is narrated in French by a woman and stars Stone himself. Since the program provides no English subtitles, I donít have the slightest idea what the woman says, but the movie itself shows Stone as he mopes around town and country. Whatís it all about? I donít have the slightest clue, but I do know we see Stoneís butt, and that was much more than I ever wanted.

In addition, the DVD features a brief text biography of Stone. Itís a pretty perfunctory affair that only provides a fairly superficial look at Stoneís life and career.

While I found Oliver Stoneís America to be a fairly interesting look at the man, I must admit it ultimately disappointed me. On its own, the program would have been compelling, but in combination with all of the audio commentaries Stone has now completed for his films, the documentary seems redundant; I heard little that Stone didnít express elsewhere, and thatís with four more commentaries to go! In the end, America was watchable and mildly provocative but not anything special.

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