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By John Wilson, Managing Editor
THE SINS OF OLIVER STONE
I much appreciated Mark Noll's perceptive and helpful review of some of the issues raised between film history and professional history-writing ["Losing It at the Movies," Mar./Apr.]. There is undoubtedly value in recognizing similarities and complementary roles in film and history making. Yet, in the end, those strategies may not serve the best understanding of either history or cinema.
If we view a film like "Nixon" as historians requiring that we be satisfied by the reconstruction of the Nixon of history, we shall, I think, not only be frustrated, but we shall be looking for the wrong thing with the wrong eyes. Instead of a correspondence between story and history, Oliver Stone has produced (successfully or not) a cinematic whole correspondent with its own "world" of characters and actions, and its own language of direction, script writing, acting, scene, dialogue, idea, and so forth. The Nixon of professionally written history and of professionally made film are both capable of raising and resolving questions on the human condition in our time and place, but they do so with different kinds of languages, mediums, informing principles, and determinable effects. I personally found Stone's Nixon to be more intellectually and emotionally satisfying than his JFK, not because it was "less wanton in treating documented events" but because its action was more probable and its central character more psychologically convincing and satisfying.
The answer to the tensions between film history and professionally written history is not to make filmmakers into better historians. Part of the answer lies, I suggest, in filmmakers becoming better filmmakers in terms of the distinctive powers and limits of their art.
- Robert Warburton
Thank you for the article "Naked and Exposed." And for the editorial, "Stranger in a Strange Land" [Mar./Apr.]. I was happy to see the reference to Walker Percy. I heartily agree with the statement, "What we ...