02/07/2013 13:24 BST | Updated 01/09/2013 06:12 BST

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States on DVD


A word to the wise: if you're a movie addict planning to interview Oliver Stone, don't do it in the small hours; it's a thrilling experience, the equivalent of downing a triple strength coffee - a midnight espresso if you like.

I've spent almost 30 years absorbing Stone's work, from B-movie chiller The Hand (the first film I saw after my inaugural trip to the States), to the classics, Platoon, Wall Street, Salvador, and JFK.

So, when offered the chance to talk to Oliver and historian Peter Kuznick about their epic series, The Untold History of the United States, I jumped at the chance.

I'd watched four, 58 minute episodes of the DVD, Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States, ahead of its 1 July UK release, and absorbed about half, while I digested a chunk of the meticulously researched book before time ran out.

My biggest fear was Stone would catch me out, or hang up because I didn't watch the other six episodes, but both he and Kuznick turn out to be charm personified.

"Are you the brother of Russell?" asks Oliver, putting me at my ease. I tell him I'm not, sadly, before asking if the scale of the four year TV project was a key hurdle to overcome.

"For me that was the hardest part, he says. "That's what took so long. We started out as a two, two-and-a-half year deal... it just grew. The complexities grew. How do you get into a pattern? What are the events? What are the patterns of those events?

"Basically that was the issue; 120 years in 10 hours. It couldn't be done. So we're down to 10 hours and 70 years."

Stone met Kuznick in 1996 when the latter was teaching a course at the American University, 'Oliver Stone's America', which looked at history through films such as JFK and Platoon.

"It pretty much covered the entire post-war history beginning around 1960s," remarks Peter.

Oliver spoke to the students; Stone and Kuznick traded film ideas about Henry Wallace (33rd Vice President of the United States), and the rest is literally 'history'.

I wonder if there are any plans to include their series on the school curriculum in America, and given the graphic footage, what age they think is appropriate for students.

Oliver: "I feel strongly it should be 11th grade." (16-17 years).

Peter: "We're working on that actually. Teachers are addressing the National Council of Social Studies. We are actually preparing lesson plans now. We think it's possible. It's something that we'd love to see."

"We have to be honest," adds Oliver. "The odds are long. The major media in our country, unlike England, and to some degree Australia, have been ignoring the series.

"I think it was belittled by the central media," he sighs. "We're considered anti-American, and I don't think so at all."

It may only be late afternoon in LA, but Stone sounds exhausted. When I ask if there are any plans for the duo to work together again, the prospect is perhaps too epic for even him to contemplate.

"Peter, Do you have any plans on something like this again?" asks Stone.

"After I recover from this one... This took a lot out of us. It hasn't slowed down yet really. It doesn't feel to me like it's ended yet. We're still at it. Getting the word out."

In the DVD/Blu-ray box set age, where entire TV seasons can be devoured like epic films, Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States looks like getting a second wind for Sky-less viewers like me who missed it.

Ever busy, Stone is now planning a revamped 2014 version of his flawed but fascinating historical epic Alexander, and JFK is getting a three US city re-release this year to tie in with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.

However, it's clear this series is still the dominating force in his life.

The fact there are no talking heads, no computer-generated graphics (which dominate most documentaries these days, but date like disco) means the shelf life should be a lot longer than many similar films.

Time is a factor; had Oliver and Peter added comments from assorted on-screen contributors, there's a chance it would have been a 20 hour show.

"To stick to the big picture takes time," says Stone.

That may not have been a bad thing. I also wouldn't have minded Donald Sutherland reprising his role as X from JFK (the king of on-screen exposition), or with a John Williams score. However, Blighty's own Craig Armstrong does a fine job scoring this piece regardless.

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States DVD is not an easy, feelgood watch, but for me it is a compelling, important one, which benefits from repeated viewings.

Highly recommended.

Oliver Stone's Untold History Of The United States out on DVD

FremantleMedia International



Pictures courtesy of FremantleMedia International