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4.7 out of 5 stars
Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States [DVD]
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the best TV documentary series I've ever seen. It's consistently gripping, and yet never stints on detail, and makes no effort to gloss over true difficulties of interpretation, and ambiguities.

One of the most remarkable in the season (currently airing on Sky Atlantic) is the episode covering the Kennedy administration. Stone is transparent in outlining the real ambiguities, both in the man and his presidency. Initially he seemed to be something of a true cold warrior, only to embark on what seems to have been a real sea change in his last year on earth. At no point does one get to see JFK through rose-tinted spectacles. His initial, apparent support for the Vietnam war is made only too clear, whilst his later decision to pull out of Vietnam (which he was unable to see through)is also poignantly elaborated upon.
Kruschev too is painted in all colours, not just one. So one comes away thinking that these men were genuinely learning some stuff as they went along. Overall, the series is a tribute to Stone's ability to tell a story (literally in this case, as he compellingly narrates, with a kind of gravelly gravitas) extremely well, and to keep it moving, knowing when to focus on just the right pivotal moment. This is a triumph which deserves to be seen by anyone interested in a genuinely alternative take on America's place in the world, in the last 60 years.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2013
I thought I'd talk about how this series presents itself rather than the politics of it.

First, the audio (I will come to the images). This series is extremely dense in words. Like an audiobook the narration is constant. Oliver Stone does the narration himself. He doesn't enunciate things entirely well. If I were to say his speech is slurred that would be a great exaggeration and an injustice. But he can be a little indistinct. At the same time there is a constant music background. No part of the series passes without a music background. So, the narration fighting with the music, you will find yourself straining to listen through most of this. I did manage to hear everything but you have to apply a bit of effort. Another thing is that Stone pauses in odd ways. I think I figured out what's going on: it sounds like he's reading from sheets of paper and when he gets to the end of a line he pauses as his eyes travel to the start of the next line. That sounds ridiculous right? Surely Stone can read from a paper without doing that. So my theory may be wrong, but if you imagine someone having to do such pauses you'll get how the narration sounds in this series.

Onto the images. I don't know that there's many clips in this that last any longer than five seconds. Almost every sentence Stone utters seems to have a separate clip to go along with it. Sometimes even to an extent that makes you frown or chuckle. For example, the last episode covers the Obama administration, but as JFK is mentioned up pops a 2 second image of JFK just in case you'd forgotten what he looked like and then you're back to images of Obama. That said, I did find the imagery very engaging. It's a massive feat of marshalling archive material and you will not be able to complain that things are not illustrated for you.

With the dense narration AND the quick cuts of images it can be hard to keep up. I have also read that a person's attention span is less than an hour long. There are no rest breaks in these episodes. There is never a bold statement made and then four seconds of a shot of an Iraqi sunset in silence so that you can take a moment to breathe. Each sentence and image leads straight into the next. I found that I inevitably zoned out here and there. However, I never felt that I was lost once I regained my attention. Sometimes, though... if you're interested in history you may have had the experience of picking up a thick history book and finding the font a bit smaller than you'd like and that there's too few paragraph breaks for comfort. That's very much what this series reminded me of. For that reason, I would think everyone will have to watch this more than once before they take everything in.

So that's what it's like for the viewer.

There's also some things that are different about this series to other documentaries, so a word on those. There are no interviews in this. You will never find someone hired for the series to give a comment on anything. Something I've not seen in a documentary before is people doing impressions! So sometimes there is a quote from JFK or Churchill and a voice comes in doing JFK or Churchill. These are short and they're mostly done well. None of the impressions made me laugh out loud but they are a little jarring here and there.

It sounds like I have little to say other than to complain, doesn't it? But I will be recommending this series to friends. It's a polemic. The politics are anti-war, anti-military-intervention, pro Russia, anti-imperial.

I will offer some alternate titles. 'The History of America's Relationship With Russia 1940-2012" or "American Foreign Policy from WWII to Obama". What I'm getting at here is that you will hear very little about US domestic politics.

OK, well, I hope you found this useful. It's an interesting series and well worth the money.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2013
My comments relate to the TV broadcast of this series on Sky Atlantic in the UK during May/June 2013.

This is one of the most compelling documentary series that I've ever seen. I'm no film buff but Oliver Stone's name is writ large in cinema and his skill shows through here. As a narrator he's got a certain gravitas - something that I would not have expected.

There's no doubt in my mind that Stone has an anti-establishment bias but I find myself wondering if it might not be justified. To me, the second world war is ancient history and I was a child during Vietnam and remember little, if any of it. To see a warts and all, in-depth discussion on the period following 1945, the mess that the west has made of the Middle East through meddling and the interventions in South America that the US government sponsored (or worse) is eye opening - and I consider my self to be both a natural sceptic and politically interested. While the focus is predictably on the USA, the UK doesn't escape criticism. Recent events with the "dodgy dossier" that pre-empted the UK's involvement in the 2nd Iraq War, and recent revelations about the scope of the US PRISM project, and the suggestion that the UK's GCHQ has even more pervasive access under a weaker governance framework leads me to conclude that both countries are still "at it" and that Stone, despite my natural scepticism has probably, if anything, underplayed his story.

In the interests of fairness, I would dearly love to see an equally well produced production refuting Stone's position. Either way, it's a fascinating view of recent history. Visceral, graphic and if I'm honest, deeply depressing if the opportunities for peace and cooperation described and actively squandered or sabotaged, are true.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2013
To fully appreciate this one needs to read the book that accompanies the TV series. The series is but a snapshot of what the book contains complete with referenced sources, etc. I found it depressing reading at times but worthwhile all the same. Unfortunately it will be lambasted and undermined in the US by the same media, Government and big business it sets out to criticise and expose. A very good and surprisingly easy read, and us Brits don't get off lightly with the underhand tricks committed to preserving a dying Empire.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2013
I have just finished watching the 10 one hour episode series by Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick. I found the films entertaining and chimed a lot with my now battered sense of the United States as a world leader. This series of films details in chronological order the actions and words of the American Presidents since Roosevelt. Each one hour episode walks us through a historical viewpoint of major events since c.1930 or so, President by president. Their is a major focus on foreign policy over US domestic policy. Each episode packs in tight concise narration by Stone speaking over pictures of relevant events, with actors quoting major players and actual archive footage of major speeches in some cases. The combination of historian and filmmaker makes for a powerful difficult to ignore narrative of mistakes, missed chances, terrible decisions and war crimes. Accompanied by a soundtrack that grows a bit better with each episode, this series of films makes for compelling viewing though the forceful narrative can run on and on a bit in a rambling way. So a second viewing may be necessary to tease out details and follow up on significant points but thats not to say this film presents no hard evidence. On the contrary for this film to come out of America is wonderful, I hope Americans pay it some attention. I hope the film wins a prize or two for the hard work put in. It presents a counter vailing view to comfortable notions about America's place in the world in much the same way critics of all empires do. I thoroughly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2013
Now before I mention anything else, my short review is based on the US 4 disc Blu Ray edition and not this inferior bare bones DVD release.
This is one of the best documentary series I have watched for a long time, blows the lid of everything you thought you knew about the last 70yrs, Oliver Stone has created a masterpiece, highly informative and utterly compelling viewing. Had to wait for a blu ray release but well worth it for the three and a half hours of additional content, also comes with a booklet that tops this set off, and yes its region free. Anyone thinking of buying the DVD, I would suggest going for the region free US blu ray.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2014
This lives up to the title of being untold (or certainly rarely told) history of the USA and its international tensions. The historical film footage is of an unusually high standard and edited very well. I'm not unsympathetic to Stone's politics (we come from comparable lefty-liberal positions), but he is something of an unreliable narrator. There are moments where I found his logic stretching credibility (especially on JFK, where of course he has prior form with his film of the same name). Overall, I found this interesting and thought provoking. Anyone who likes the UK's Adam Curtis documentries would probably get quite a bit out of this. It is a thoughful and alternative view of history, but take it with a large pinch of salt. As television it is well crafted and each episode follows a clear narrative arc. I don't think you need to agree with Stone to get quite a lot out of it. My copy cost £10 which for ten hour long episodes represents pretty good value.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 March 2014
This review has been posted to inform people that the Blu-ray version is region-free and to give some information on the extra material. I am grateful to Mr D.A. who posted the region-free information already, but internet searches said it was not region-free. I therefore took a chance and bought it, and can confirm that it is indeed region-free (on my Panasonic DMR-BWT800 DVD recorder). The extra bonus material comprises two extra programmes to the series, Prologues A and B covering 1900 -> 1920 and 1920 -> 1940 respectively, and a separate interview with Oliver Stone and Tariq Ali. I have only watched Prologue A so far, and, as expected, it is excellent, shedding so much light on (e.g.) the causes behind World War I, noting that some of these causes have not yet been cited in any of the BBC's commemorative WWI programmes so far. This 'prologue' programme, however, mainly concentrates upon US international expansion into (e.g.) Central America, Far East etc. at the beginning of the 20th century, and is indeed highly informative. This programme, and the other one probably also, certainly 'sets the scene' for the main series - so much so that it should really have formed part of the main series.

As for the main series itself, this has been amply covered by the other reviews here. All I can add is that the series is indeed excellent and provides a worthy, and needed, counter-balance to the media's standard portrayal of recent history.

Now, if only the series, PLUS prologues, can be aired on UK terrestrial TV (Channel 4 or BBC 4?) so that it can get a wider audience....and in line with the Reithian principles to educate and inform.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Well this is probably the best and most informative series on history that I have ever had the privilege of seeing. I find it amusing that those who do not find the facts convenient to their worldview and would rather deny them point out that Stone is "leftwing". As though facts could be either right or leftwing. Facts speak for themselves, such as the death of 3.5 million Vietnamese, and other South-East Asians that have been killed through USA intervention in their respective countries.I was brought up to believe that the USA was an honourable country but this series and the book on which it is based has forever shattered that illusion. If the USA was not the powerful and brutal empire that it is, its leaders would be indicted in an international tribunal for warcrimes and crimes against humanity.Another aspect that I find so illumination is how the industrial-military complex actually works. In order to keep all the production lines going the country always has to find new countries to invade under the guise of bringing so-called democracy. The miriad of private corporations supplying the military become rich and Wall Street is overjoyed.I wonder who is going to be next in line? They are probably just waiting for an excuse to invade Iran, or alternatively, they will fabricate one. They have done this often before in the past, starting the war in the Philippines, and then in Vietnam with the Bay of Tomkin. Or perhaps China is next in line, so hold your breath and see.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2013
Great series and very revealing. It makes you wonder about the truth of our own English history and of all the so called great
powers. As a civilisation - when will we all ever learn not to interfere and manipulate other countries, but also to be respectful and morally upright within our own communities and with all communities wherever and whoever they may be.
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