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The Best Plans of Mice, Men and Wizards

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  • baypointmike
    The Wizard of W. In his latest film, the controversial director takes on our lame duck president (emphasis on lame!) and explains who s really in charge by
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2008
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      The Wizard of W.

      In his latest film, the controversial director takes on our lame duck president (emphasis on lame!) and explains who's really in charge

      by Sara Vilkomerson  |  October 14, 2008

      This article was published in the October 20, 2008, edition of The New York Observer.

      Oliver on the set
      Sidney Ray Baldwin/Lionsgate Films
      Oliver on the set

      On the night of Monday, October 13, Oliver Stone was being chauffeured around downtown Manhattan, looking for the dinner party he was running late for, and talking about what the subject of his new film, W., has in common with the Wizard of Oz. Connecting W., which examines and chronicles the life of George W. Bush leading up to and including his presidency, to the 1939 Judy Garland flying-monkeys extravaganza might not seem all that intuitive. But in conversation about his latest subject, Mr. Stone was drawn back again and again to the moment that Dorothy discovers that the great and most powerful wizard was really just an ordinary man, hiding behind a curtain, desperately pressing buttons and pulling levers to keep up the illusion of his control. "He's sort of a Wizard of Oz president," Mr. Stone said. "I do kinda see Bush that way. He walks with the macho John Wayne walk and he has all those trappings of power—the outer forms of power, those salesman-like aspects. But he's entirely not qualified and, in fact, he does not have power. You say power, I say Wizard of Oz."

      The movie, which stars Josh Brolin, who uncannily channels George W. Bush (or "Bushie," "Geo," "Junior" and, of course, "W."/"Dubya"), does plenty more than paint a picture—or caricature—of the man who still inhabits the Oval Office. It many ways Mr. Stone tells a classic, tragic father-and-son story (as many early critics have noted, one conclusion to draw from the movie is that each of President Bush's actions have been a direct result of his feeling inadequate to his father, George the elder). But it's also a cautionary, still-in-session history lesson, and at times a comedy, if in a holy-cow-look-at-the-unbelievable-mess-we're-in kind of way. But much like Mr. Stone's other films—say, Wall Street, or his other two grapplings with the modern presidency, Nixon and JFK—W. demonstrates an unrelenting interest in that almighty American ideal: power. In this case, even as we have an elected official sitting in the most powerful office in the world, Mr. Stone seeks to answer this question: Who is the one really pushing the buttons and pulling the levers?

      Regarding the past seven years, the answer seems clear. "I think Bush is in charge because he ultimately says yes or no, but it's clear that he lost control. I think Cheney had more actual practical power because of the appointments he was able to control. …  Cheney played [Bush] very, very well. Very well. Masterfully! Because Cheney wanted to control policy but wasn't interested in the trappings of the presidency," said Mr. Stone. "It's really Cheney and [Cheney's chief of staff David] Addington who are probably the two most villainous aspects of this administration."

      When we meet young Bushie in W., he's a (somewhat) lovable screw-up—a twinkly-eyed, good-time scamp that his father, played with grave elegant reserve by James Cromwell, continuously has to bail out of trouble and lecture about not embarrassing the family name. Jeb is the good son. W. drinks too much and is a hothead like Babs. After college, he drifts through his 20s and 30s, having the good fortune to meet and marry a sweet and intelligent woman, Laura (played here by Elizabeth Banks). But he's still unmoored and directionless.

      "Honestly, I found him to be a fascinating subject because he's such a great story," Mr. Stone said. "It's a Frank Capra figure, a Preston Sturges figure. Here's a guy who was 40 years old and a failure in most everything he did. And then he turned it around and had a wonderful second act, and then there's the third act. And that's what fascinates us, because that was the presidency. You get a sense from the movie how his character shaped and developed and how he became the president he was."

      Despite the fact that it may seem as though Mr. Stone is trying to do the work of journalists —as with Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin, might it be Josh Brolin's W. who takes up residence in our memories, as opposed to the man we've met through the newspapers and evening news— he's quick to mention the research he consulted and books he read while preparing for this film, rattling off titles by Ron Suskind, Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward, whose State of Denial was particularly influential. "We finally got past the veil," he said, pointing out that very little was known early on in Bush's presidency about those early years in office, with every appearance and press conference orchestrated and the president spending much of his time in Crawford, Texas. "These investigative journalists are really the only ones to peel it back," said Mr. Stone. "We suspected a lot of stuff was going on, but we didn't know. We couldn't have made this movie in 2004 or 2005. It really did take a while, and I think there's going to be more stuff that's comit's W. himself who is most humanized in the film (though Mr. Stone prefers to say his W. is "empathetic"), which may surprise many viewers given that Mr. Stone is a director not exactly known for having a light touch when it comes to expressing his opinions. Take, for example, 1995's Nixon, and Anthony Hopkins' withering depiction of a man wholly consumed by gloom and paranoia. "I did not like Nixon. I suffered, like many people."

      Still, I suffered under him, in Vietnam," said Mr. Stone. "But you know what? In the movie, we went in there and my job as a dramatist is not the same as that of a private citizen. I wanted to walk in his shoes and understand him. Opinions don't add up. Hate, love, those things change. Understanding is far more valuable to me."

      But is there something that ties Mr. Stones oeuvre, from JFK to Nixon to W., all together? "Off the top of my head, concern for my country," he said. "Contrary to what many people think, I love America. It gave me my chance. I love this country and I just think there was a betrayal in the Kennedy assassination, there was a second betrayal with Nixon. I think Reagan is the son of Nixon, and I think Bush Jr. is the grandson of Nixon. I do think Nixon is the forebear to a lot of this stuff."

      W. was completed quickly in order to come out before this year's election. When asked if he thought that releasing the film while Bush is still in office could influence history as it unfolds, Mr. Stone (who openly supports Senator Obama) was quick to say, "I have no say in that." But he warned that those who inherit the job will be untangling these past eight years for the next few decades. "W.'s influence is not going to go away in January 2009. He's going to be impacting us for 20, 30, 40 more years. We're fighting three wars—Iraq and Afghanistan, and frankly, the most expensive is the war on terror. We have a government that's been stripped of its ability to function and react, from the economy to New Orleans. There is a disregard and hatred for government in these people that has led us to the place where you have to ask, where are we going to go now? How did we get here?" He paused. "So, we made a first good stab, but there's more to come in understanding the phenomenon that took over America."

      We're thinking W. 2 has a nice ring to it.


      October 15, 2008 2:37 PM
      BayPointMike wrote: What a Genius! He was the only one who saw behind the courtain! I tried to figure out our Preseident, I started from the highest values I could imagine, like patriotism, to the lowest, like some kind of addiction, but none survived, the hardest test I found is "Would Mrs. B marry him if he were like that?" No way, it had to be something that even his girl friend or wife would never consider.
      But, the manipulation of others was plain to see, he tricked TWICE the US Congress to give him a blank check to attack a nation that had not attacked us. That's wizardy of high order. Should Congress resign? They did reject his scare tactics for the $700 Billion Bank Bailout Bill and totally wrote a Real Rescue Bill to help others than Bankers, there is hope in Congress, some of my heroes work there.
      But, there is an extrapolation to "W", the movie, that deserves mention, I think. Would the fact that he was elected once and nearly elected a second time imply something, considering "Wizard of W"?
      The implication is that there is a limit to everything in life, what are the limits in a Democracy and its Leaders?

      For example, I know my computer skills are limited, and I am aware of recent failures when I ignored and went beyond my skill limits. Some tasks are beyond my abilities but my failures do not prove that I now know how to overcome my limitations. I must first admit my error and accept my limitations and learn the skill needed which may be impossible or impractical. We know plumbers or mechanics that tried to go beyond their skills. But, to go beyond our limits and fail to learn from our mistakes and failures, means no gains.

      We know people that seem incapable of admitting to ever making a mistake, like W, and learnt nothing from mistakes. They refuse to admit, to themselves and others, they were mistakes -regerdless what they say about them, they are, in their mind, truly innocent! Remember the joke W made about mistakes, is this prevalent?

      Could events in the world become so complicated that leaders are in fact servants to the advisors hired to turn the complex into the simple but without changing either of them to reflect their personal preferences? Is Chaney one? "Influencing with Integrity" is a good idea and book title from 1983.

      Rewriting the Peter Principle, "Leaders, that reach too high, will be at their level of incompetence and they can either quit, improve or reorganize their staff, or become servants to adisors who know so much they become intimidating, like Chaney and the leader only follows advice, without thought. The leader is conciders himself innocent, to himself, because he never really understood the consequences of his actions like the destruction of a foreign nation, for no valid reason, or the econmic destruction of our nation.

      In short, leaders of companies or nations, in time run the risk of becoming servants to the advisors they trusted to provide help. The servant becomes the unelected leader. How else could we explain why the leaders of some car companies are unable to build high milage cars? Have they heard about the oil price? Why did W authorize, and Congess approve, a manned trip to Mars? What should a leader do to avoid becoming a servant to the advisors? Answer that before long, in a Democracy, the elected must lead.

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