Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States is the hyped-up title of a new, ten-part documentary series that begins tonight, Monday, November 12, on Showtime. In it, Stone—the often hyperbolic Hollywood director and screen writer who served as an infantryman in the Vietnam War—trains his penetrating lens on big historical events beginning with World War II.
The series is based on the just-published door stopper (784 page) of a book of the same name Stone wrote with Peter Kuznick, an American University history professor. In the book and TV series Kuznick and Stone (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, et al .) concern themselves primarily with what they firmly believe the United States has done wrong on the world and domestic stages, rather than noting what America has done right.
In her mixed review of the series in The New York Times , Alessandra Stanley calls Stone “a dramatist of truth who tramples facts to spin alternative histories that may be grandiose and grotesque but can sometimes have a hint of grandeur.”
On the other hand, she says, “it’s too easy to focus on what Mr. Stone does wrong; it’s also useful to focus a spotlight on what he gets right. ” Still, Stanley notes, “in all the overblown rhetoric and self-righteous hyperbole (Mr. Stone is his own narrator) accuracy is sometimes hard to find.”
Mary McNamara, the Los Angeles Times TV critic, had a similar assessment. The series, she wrote , “is a hodgepodge of terrific if often disturbing historical footage and bizarre theatrical asides.
“It seems, more than anything, a response to the notion of ‘American exceptionalism, ‘ though it’s difficult to imagine that those Americans who do believe, as Stone puts it, that America is the center of the universe and always the good guy, will be swayed by him.”
The series “narrative, ” she says, “is too often just as one-note as the versions Stone seeks to replace.” Stone, McNamara concludes, “presents his case with little recognition of the social, political and psychological complexities that dominate much of human development, turning it, intentionally or not, into an alternative mythology that relies far more on broad-stroke storytelling than rigorous analysis.”