This weekend, Oliver Stone’s new documentary, South of the Border, his ode to Hugo Chavez and South and Latin America’s new quasi-Marxist and not so quasi dictators, has opened in New York City and Los Angeles, and will open nationwide in a week. It had a showing this past Wednesday at the AFI Silverdocs Festival in the Washington, D.C., area, and my article about it appears today in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. I argue therein: “What Mr. Stone and his writers have presented is a standard far-left narrative that is part of a long line of propaganda films, a modern American version of the old agitprop. There are no dissenting voices in this film. Nor is there any mention of the fact that Mr. Chávez has closed down television and radio stations that disagree with him and arrested dissenting political figures.” The film is what you can expect from the likes of Oliver Stone, a virtual know-nothing who uses his celebrity and acclaim as a film director to spew out hatred for the country that has made him wealthy and influential.
Writing in the New York Times, Larry Rohter came up with many other examples of distortions and omissions in the movie. He notes that the “78-minute South of the Border is meant to be a documentary, and therefore to be held to different standards. But it is plagued by the same issues of accuracy that critics have raised about his movies, dating back to JFK. Taken together, the mistakes, misstatements and missing details could undermine Mr. Stone’s glowing portrait of Mr. Chávez.” Rohter goes on to pinpoint some of these in stunning detail.
Unfortunately, his film has been for some strange reason convincing otherwise intelligent people that in this effort, Stone has shown nuance. The most egregious is the review of the film appearing at the Daily Beast, written by Allen Barra. His title, “When Did Oliver Stone Become Sensible?,” tells you all you need to know about Barra’s take. The answer to his question, of course, is that Stone did not.
But Barra does not pause, as I did and Larry Rohter has done, to raise any questions at all about Stone’s claims and methodology. Instead, Barra writes that “Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border is an even-tempered, cant-free look at a topic that has just about everyone north of the border, no matter what side of the political spectrum, foaming at the mouth.” He goes on to even call Stone “the most sensible guy on the block.”
That is the problem with so-called documentaries. They are not objective, as many people think they are or should be. It is to Stone and writer Tariq Ali’s credit that they admit this freely. As Ali told Rohter: “It’s hardly a secret that we support the other side. It’s an opinionated documentary.” Ali’s rationale does not hold water. Anyone watching the movie sees a narrative that presents their argument as total truthful fact, not as biased agitprop written to defend totalitarianism and Marxism. That is why someone like Barra can fall for it and believe it is nuanced and even-handed.
Of course, Barra reveals much about his own ignorance, writing: “They are all socialists who have distanced themselves in varying degrees from Marxism, they have all been democratically elected, and they have all been demonized, more or less, with Chavez representing the more and Lula, characterized as the closest to the center, the less.” In fact, most of them, especially Chavez, have not distanced themselves from Marxism. Chavez recently proclaimed himself a Trotskyist (the late Bolshevik, upon hearing this, certainly turned over in his grave) and the others, while elected, have to varying degrees endorsed Chavez and sought to replicate his anti-democratic methods. Of the group, Lula in fact has proved moderate, has alienated his left-wing base, and has until the recent agreement with Iran, worked with the United States.