Ordinary Intimacies in Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
This essay reads James Baldwin in conversation with two unexpected interlocutors
from the American nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson and W.
E. B. Du Bois. What draws these historically distant and intellectually
different thinkers together, their differences making their convergences all the
more resonant and provocative, is a shared mode of attention they bring to the
social crises of their eras. It is a mode of attention foregrounding how the
often unobserved particulars and emotional registers of human life vitally shape
civic existence; more specifically, a mode of attention provoking us to see how
“a larger, juster, and fuller future,” in Du Bois’s words,
is a matter of the ordinary intimacies and estrangements in which we exist,
human connections in all their expressions and suppressions. Emerson names them
“facts [. . .] harder to read.” They are “the
finer manifestations,” in Du Bois’s terms, “of social life,
which history can but mention and which statistics can not count”;
“All these things,” Baldwin says, “[. . .]
which no chart can tell us.” In effect, from the 1830s to the 1980s these
thinkers bear witness to what politics, legislation, and even all our knowledges
can address only partially, and to the potentially transformative compensations
we might realize in the way we conduct our daily lives. The immediate relevance
and urgency this essay finds in their work exists not in proposed political
actions, programs for reform, or systematic theories of social justice but in
the way their words revitalize the ethical question “How shall I
live?” Accumulative and suggestive rather than systematically comparative
or polemical, this essay attempts to engage with Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
intimately, to proceed in the spirit of their commitment to questioning received
disciplines, languages, and ways of inhabiting the world.
This book charts and analyses the work of Oliver Stone – arguably one of the foremost political filmmakers in Hollywood during the last thirty years. Drawing on previously unseen production files from Oliver Stone’s personal archives and hours of interviews both with Stone and a range of present and former associates within the industry, the book employs a thematic structure to explore Stone’s life and work in terms of war, politics, money, love and corporations. This allows the authors both to provide a synthesis of earlier and later film work as well as locate that work within Stone’s developing critique of government. The book explores the development of aesthetic changes in Stone’s filmmaking and locates those changes within ongoing academic debates about the relationship between film and history as well as wider debates about Hollywood and the film industry. All of this is explored with detailed reference to the films themselves and related to a set of wider concerns that Stone has sought to grapple with -the American Century, exceptionalism and the American Dream, global empire, government surveillance and corporate accountability. The book concludes with a perspective on Stone’s ‘brand’ as not just an auteur and commercially viable independent filmmaker but as an activist arguing for a very distinct kind of American exceptionalism that seeks a positive role for the US globally whilst eschewing military adventurism.
The chapter notes that Stone’s interests in social critique and politics have carried him some way ahead of art and commerce into the territory that can best be summed up as activism. Each of his films has been a piece of crafted drama with a range of distinctive attributes related to narrative and photography acting as a baseline for Stone’s auteur brand. What is striking, however, in the second period of his career, is the way those core elements of the auteur brand did not merely become retroactive career artefacts for a media narrative seeing his auteur heyday as belonging to the past. Stone’s auteurism acted instead as a platform for a political discourse that retained as much urgency and purpose as films like Salvador and JFK had in his early career.
This chapter traces two key threads in Stone’s exploration of corporations and their impact on wider society; one to do with the media, and the other concerning government. The first part of this chapter examines Talk Radio and Any Given Sunday exploring how and why the critique of corporations manifest itself in a particular way during this era. The chapter then considers the critique of mainstream media organisations offered in documentaries like Comandante and the Untold History series towards anything that might constitute a provocation to the dominant national narratives, before returning to consider what W., Wall Street: MNS and Savages had to say about corporate and government accountability.
Stone’s early film career, exemplified by productions like Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987) has often been contrasted by critics with a seemingly less vital period after the commercial failure of Nixon (1995). This chapter explains how a thematic analysis focusing on war, politics, money, love and corporations will be deployed to demonstrate a much more significant set of changes across Stone’s filmography and career. The chapter considers how Stone’s dramatic filmmaking shifted from specific critiques of the establishment in films like JFK (1991) towards more muted polemics in films like W. (2008) and a focus on morality. Accompanying this transition was the emergence of a distinct documentary style in films like Comandante (2003).
This chapter explores the representation of love in Stone’s filmmaking highlighting the importance of a transition that began in the mid-to-late 1990s with U Turn. The argument here posits that U Turn represents a marker in Stone’s career, not because of the loss of aesthetic vitality as some critics observed, that had been integral to earlier films, but precisely because the film marks the emergence of a distinctive melodramatic shift in Stone’s work, and a shift towards the darker aspects of parental love in particular. The significance of a melodramatic filter for viewing Stone’s later films is then used to assess Alexander and W. before investigating the way in which relationships and emotional love is worked into both these films and in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Savages.
This chapter pursues the argument that both Wall Street: MNS and Savages have rather more to say about money and capitalism as it is practiced than many critics acknowledged. These recent films articulate a particular kind of moral collapse that is different from the moral implosions examined in Wall Street, Talk Radio and Natural Born Killers. While these earlier productions espoused a range of ideological commentaries about individual responsibility and even personal honour, framed within questions about institutional justice and collective action, the more recent films give less emphasis to these concerns and instead foreground a form of retribution that almost revisits the traditional notions of frontier ethos and Darwinian laws of nature.
This chapter traces the evolution of Stone’s political consciousness and his articulation of America’s twentieth century outlook by revisiting JFK, the film that placed Stone centre-stage in this assault on establishment doctrine and routine. It then considers how that critique was honed in his subsequent feature films – W. - documentary work and in particular Comandante (2003) and South of the Border (2010). The chapter also revisits the debate about drama as history as well as locating Stone’s documentary work within that genre’s tradition and trends over recent years including the increasing presence of feature film aesthetics and entertainment values.
By any standard, Stone has been a product of war; intrigued by it, physically and psychologically marked by it, propelled to action by it, and galvanised in opposition to it. The chapter takes Platoon as its starting point before considering how ideas of war have informed the construction and reception of later films like World Trade Center (2006) and W. (2008) as well as the Untold History (2012) documentary series. Stone’s perspective on war provides a firm footing from which to interpret not just his films or the wider Hollywood machinery, but to think more carefully about the American polity and its constant, historical and reiterating focus on the mantras of ‘just war’ and the ‘war on terror’