Oliver Stone's new George W. Bush biopic (or "dramatization" or whatever one calls a life story retold with poetic license) seems, even in comparison to every other Oliver Stone movie, like the wrong movie at the wrong time. The acting may be great, it may be funny, it may be accurate, and it may cure cancer after two viewings, but….who in the hell actually wants to watch a movie about George W. Bush after seven years and nine months of living the George W. Bush experience?
Matthew Brady, undoubtedly the most important (and first) photojournalist, is famous today for the thousands of uncensored images he made of the American Civil War.** What is often forgotten is that immediately after the War he went bankrupt and died penniless, many of his images being destroyed in the process. It wasn't because his pictures were not gripping or lacked artistic merit – it was simply that after the Civil War, no one wanted to look at pictures of the Civil War.
Stone's film might have been the perfect movie for 2011. Maybe at that point we will have gained enough distance from these events to appreciate them as a source of comedy, irony, or entertainment. Right now it feels a little like expecting the public in 1866 to pay to see photos of mangled, bloody Union soldiers and burnt villages. Maybe I am incorrect and the public will flock to see the film, but I very much doubt it. Sticking with the Civil War theme, when Booth's co-conspirators were executed in 1865, a newspaper called the Evening Star stated:
The last act of the tragedy of the 19th century is ended, and the curtain dropped forever upon the lives of its actors. Payne, Herold, Atzerodt and Mrs. Surratt have paid the penalty of their awful crime. In the bright sunlight of this summer day the wretched criminals have been hurried into eternity…We want to know their names no more.
That is the best summary of how I feel about this administration and everyone responsible for the events of the last eight years. There will come a time when I want to think about them in great detail, but it certainly is not now.
**He also photographed 18 of the 19 presidents between 1824 and 1900, excepting only William Henry Harrison, and is responsible for the only extant photographs of six presidents. Among them is John Quincy Adams, the earliest president (chronologically) to be photographed, albeit late in his life and many years after he left office. The first president to be photographed while in office, also by Brady, was John Tyler.