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on 28 April 2017
not an easy watch, but lots of info
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on 4 June 2013
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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VINE VOICEon 20 April 2017
Blu-ray details first: what makes the blu-ray essential is that the US import version is region free and comes with nearly three hours of extra material: two complete episodes missing from the British release and an interview between writer/director Oliver Stone and journalist-historian Tariq Ali (this is all on the fourth disc and labelled as "Bonus material" but the two extra prologue episodes should really be viewed first before the main series). This documentary series is largely a collection of archive material covering almost a century and while the images have been restored where possible, the video is not reference quality. The narration and music are sharp and clear, with original historical recordings cleaned-up where possible.

This brilliant, provocative series tells a narrative history of global concerns, as seen through the prism of the United States. Co-written, directed and narrated by multiple Oscar-winning film director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, JFK), this amazing series is absolutely essential viewing.

Beginning with the Russian revolution and the First World War and taking us through the Second World War, the Cold War and the post-Cold War years, finishing with 9/11, George W. Bush, the financial collapse and Barack Obama, Untold History plays out a dense tableau of characters and events, both familiar and forgotten. This is in no way a Great Man theory of history, so while certain people are writ large, such as Franklin Roosevelt, largely forgotten characters such as Vice President Henry Wallace and Major General Smedley Butler also get due prominence.

Writers Stone and American University Professor of History Peter Kuznick also give credit to the importance of an informed populace in shaping world events and acting as a break on the worst excesses of government - and that is probably the raison d'etre of this groundbreaking series. It would explain why this was four years in the making and why Oliver Stone considers it his legacy, the most important piece of work he has ever undertaken.

This series will of course be criticised as biased, one-sided, blame-America-first socialist propaganda and other a priori techniques designed to shut down and censor debate. The "other side" to this debate, if you like, is that which is churned out by the mainstream media on a daily basis. What this series does is provide a counter-weight to the fourth arm of government, a necessary corrective to keep our minds sharp and questioning, to not get too comfortable nor to slip in to easy cynicism.

The Untold History of the United States is a collection of amazing archive footage, sometimes with the backing of dramatic music and narrated over by Stone himself. Each episode is crammed with so much information, names, dates, facts and figures that, as highly watchable as it is, it is almost too much to take in, in one sitting. Almost. As befits one of the best filmmakers in the United States, Stone fundamentally understands the rhythms of the visual medium and keeps his audience's interest throughout. This is simply fascinating, riveting stuff (even for non-Americans) and is sure to start a debate with everyone who sees it. For those who still want more after this finishes, or if you want to reference where all these facts come from, a companion book of the same name by the same two people is also available. Simply put, Untold History is essential viewing and one of the most important documentary series ever made, right up there with the classic The World At War.
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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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on 3 January 2015
Excellent. Just be aware of the author's socialist bias - which is actually refreshing for American writers! They think public transport is tantamount to communism. I bought it in paperback but due to the very small font/print size got another copy for my Kindle and read it on that. The author(s) give valuable perspective on much of the extreme right-wing thinking endemic in US politics for, at least, a couple of generations. It details how even Presidents who have 'decent' philanthropic agendas get bullied, by what we would now call 'neo-cons', into diluting or dropping any programmes that would actually help the Americam population AS A WHOLE. It also shows how the US cares little about the deaths of other nations' populations through the propping up of corrupt, immoral and vicious regimes world-wide; Egs in The Middle East, South and Central America and South East Asia.
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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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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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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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on 22 August 2013
I really can't explain how good this is.
It's not going to keep you on the edge of your seat but it is so informative that it has really opened my eyes to the media, politics and the oil producers.
Lots to watch but well worth it.
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on 14 June 2017
ok - oliver stone is oliver stone - so he has some pet peeves - but still quite interesting info which is not taught by main stream history
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