Stone/Dubya: The Improbable President


Abstract "In the end, W. makes up in immediacy what it lacks in objectivity" (LeSalle, 2008). This paper examines the manner in which US President George W. Bush was represented in Oliver Stone’s W. (2008), and consider how cinema, as Norman Mailer observed on the release of Stone’s previous account of the deceased president JFK (1991), has “the power to make new history” (Cited in Grimes: 22) W. stands as Stone’s third visit to the Oval Office. A script of a Bush biopic had been drafted prior to the strike by Wall Street (Stone, 1987) screenwriter Stanley Wiesler and, though funding was hard to find and casting problematic, the film was rushed into production, appearing in theatres just five months after shooting began. “If Nixon was a symphony,” offered Stone to Variety, ”this is more like a chamber piece” (Fleming, 2008). The timing of the release ensured controversy. The final piece of Stone’s presidential triumvirate premiered in New York in October 2008, and went on general theatrical release just as the final curtain descended on George Walker Bush’s second term as US President. This was controversial, bringing Bush and his presidency back to the fore in an election campaign where he otherwise maintained a low profile. Entertainment Weekly noted that trailers for the film ran in the same breaks as campaign advertising for Republican Party presidential nominee John McCain (Svetkey, 2008). Mark Carnes noted that “Hollywood history sparkles because it is so historically ambiguous, so devoid of tedious complexity” (1997), an affect that Friedlander observed “can serve to flatten out and homogenize […] complex differences” (Cited in Landy, 1996: 232). The film biopic must both psychologise its subject, yet simplify. Entire lives are required to be condensed neatly into a three-act structure, while the conventions of screenwriting require the writer to be simultaneously authentic, and dramatic. André Bazin observed that the effect of these conflicting parameters is that, at each stage of this process, the “representation discards or retains […] the qualities that permit us to recognize the object on the screen.” Each of these abstractions, he noted, has a corrosive factor, where the initial state of reality found itself slowly “substituted by an illusion of reality” (2004: 27)

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