The Untold History of the United States reviewed

I have been casually watching recorded episodes on my player of Oliver Stone’s documentary miniseries entitled The Untold History of the United States (2012). The show chronicles a side of American history unrevealed to the commoner. The material covered is of a rather sensitive variety, especially on the US government’s end. Stone lets us behind the curtain on past themes unseen by the world’s daily dose of news, a thorough dissection of White House policy and maneuver. The Cold War is foregrounded, including the devastating repercussions this reaped on the global stage. While my convenient memory prevented me from watching the production from the start, I did manage to view a fair amount of episodes. I never got to watch it while scheduled at night on the History Channel as I have a tendency to procrastinate. Still I was able to string together enough time to view, despite this lack of consistency. I only have one episode to watch, the finale featuring current President Obama.

Untold History takes a rather disillusioned portrayal of American political and cultural history. The documentary provides a vivid look into the ruthlessness of twentieth century US sociopolitical dynamics, a young nation eager on dominating the world’s geopolitical landscape. The carcasses of third world civilians and shadows of dictators alike are left in the wake of this exercise of sheer greed. Stone probes the White House’s manipulation of US military might and the guile exhibited in advancing their triumphalism. The show examines the American agenda as imposed on the rest of the world, positing this incentive as superior and thus ecumenical. At several points in the narrative, the threat of utilizing nuclear weapons in conflict by past US Presidents are navigated, displaying the narcissism of America’s top brass. Also featured is the disturbing underhand nexus between prior US governments and rogue dictatorships it helped to establish. How Federal America plays its cards in erecting, shuffling and demolishing puppet regimes of destitute states is played out in Technicolor-ed efficacy. Moreover, the littered bodies of the departed in forgotten Third World territories similarly confront the viewer. This seemingly shoves the question: at what cost should the world endure in this unadulterated hunger for total world domination?

As mentioned above, the miniseries therefore tackles the erstwhile frigid relations between the former Soviet Union and Uncle Sam and how this so-called Cold War has affected the microcosm at large. This is predicated in the program from a unique American perspective. Stone’s fingerprints are all over this presentation, his comportment as stalwart of the endangered left in American cinema on full notice. This is perceivable for instance in his uniform commentary of American foreign policy, regarded as partial to American interests and thus reminiscent of Roman rule. He does not hide his distaste on the boundless rise of the neoconservatives and how their governance retrogressed the nation. He despises their lack of discretion and blasts the Reagan administration, musing of the ‘barbarism of Ronald Reagan’. The production depicts a commonly held view on the 80’s American President, advancing the polar viewpoints on assessing the Reagan era. Hero or not, one thing is clear: Stone’s displeasure at Reagan’s Hollywood flair for the dramatic is plain. In contrast, he champions Mikhail Gorbachev, to him the true visionary and peacemaker who brought an end to the living nightmare that was the Cold War. Reagan – perhaps more than Nixon – is most criticized, with his hypocritical persona and Star Wars vagaries on celestial armament testing.

Each episode covers a lot for an hour. Untold History delves into the psyche of the power players in mostly post Word War 2 (WW2) US governance and is not a simple examination of American bio-politics since WW2. Spread out over twelve memorable and highly fascinating installments, this is a very captivating watch. Although at times a bit swift in jumping from scenes and topics, this is more than reconciled by Stone’s connection with his explored issues. There is almost never a sketchy detail; all is left before the viewer to devour. Albeit a partisan analysis coming from an indubitable Leftist, Stone’s critique is far from being distracting. No doubt, there is legitimate reason to harken to the director’s judgment. The millions of lives lost in Vietnam is cause for demonizing it and the use of nuclear weapons is likewise a medieval operation. Seeing a darker side of the White House workings was a huge basis for my continued viewing. I’m sure that I won’t be alone in holding that sentiment.

I also loved the utilisation of archive footage – be it from previous American combat missions, dreary overseas realities or grainy Presidential videos. This served to bring more proximity for the observer and added a dose of realism while remaining very engrossing. Stone’s attention to detail is likewise laudable. This is palpable in his adroit manipulation of imagery and facts, where commentary and pictures marry to amplify the work. His nifty weaving of dialectic is both a visceral and cerebral treat. There’s much to adore in this documentary series and so little to bemoan, if at all. Given this highly positive viewing experience, I figure that I will check out Stone’s other war material. He has a substantial body of work after all regarding historical figures and it’s always interesting to get a leftist vista on things. Stone’s efforts on Untold History makes me certain that he’s my kind of artist. So get watching; it’s never too late for Classified History 101.

****

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