Oliver Stone

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I don’t trust the NSA or Oliver Stone with our information. 

It was clear long before Edward Snowden to any American paying attention that our government had overreached into our privacy in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s not that there aren’t real dangers that need to be investigated, but treating every citizen like a threat is another kind of threat.

Stone is a very gifted filmmaker whose work seems informed by chemicals he (over-)experimented with as a youth. It’s galling that so many took his overheated JFK hokum seriously for so long and that some still do. His films are interesting provided no one uses them as history lessons.

That means the director’s upcoming take on Snowden should be…interesting? Well, let’s not prejudge. 

Stephen Galloway of the Hollywood Reporter has an article about Stone’s paranoid approach to the making of the movie, which might be warranted in this case. He recently said this of the production: “We moved to Germany, because we did not feel comfortable in the U.S….we felt like we were at risk here.” An excerpt:

When Stone (whose films include Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Wall Street) was first approached to make the movie, he hesitated. He had been working on another controversial subject, about the last few years in the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and did not immediately wish to tackle something that incendiary again.

“Glenn Greenwald [the journalist who worked with Poitras to break the Snowden story] asked me some advice and I just wanted to stay away from controversy,” he said. “I didn’t want this. Be that as it may, a couple of months later, the Russian lawyer for Snowden contacts me via my producer. The Russian lawyer told me to come to Russia and wanted me to meet him. One thing led to another, and basically I got hooked.”

In Moscow, Stone met multiple times with Snowden, who has been living in exile in Russia since evading the U.S. government’s attempts to arrest him for espionage. “He’s articulate, smart, very much the same,” he said. “I’ve been seeing him off and on for a year — actually, more than that. I saw him last week or two weeks ago to show him the final film.”

He added: “He is consistent: he believes so thoroughly in reform of the Internet that he has devoted himself to this cause … Because of the Russian hours, he stays up all night. He’s a night owl, and he’s always in touch [with the outside world], and he’s working on some kind of constitution for the Internet with other people. So he’s very busy. And he stays in that 70-percent-computer world. He’s on another planet that way. His sense of humor has gotten bigger, his tolerance. He’s not really in Russia in his mind — he’s in some planetary position up there. And Lindsay Mills, the woman he’s loved for 10 years — really, it’s a serious affair — has moved there to be with him.”•

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Because things aren’t murky enough, Oliver Stone is bringing his paranoid onslaught of fact and fiction to the topic of Edward Snowden, a mixed bag to begin with. Our default mode should be supporting whistleblowers, but this guy doesn’t make it easy. He told us what was fairly obvious in the age of the Patriot Act, and the information won’t really change much (though Snowden can’t be blamed for that). In this time, Americans are more afraid of terrorism than they are of losing liberties, wanting a brother to take care of them even if it’s Big Brother. It never was a lack of knowledge that allowed surveillance to take hold but a lack of will. Beyond that, government spying will likely end up being the least of the problem, with corporations and rogue groups and individuals far more of a threat.

InThe Hacking of Hollywood,” a very wonderful Backchannel piece, David Kushner writes of an ironic twist: The auteur is trying to prevent his film about the leaker from being leaked. The article retreats to the 2004 origin story of interlopers entering the Dream Factory, making its way forward to the Fappening, a dark weekend that was revealing in more ways than one. Kushner stresses that no great technical skills are usually required for such breaches. The opening: 

It’s a cold day in Munich, and Oliver Stone, Hollywood’s most notorious director, is staring down the world’s most notorious hacker, Edward Snowden — or, at least, the actor who’s portraying him, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Stone’s here filming his controversial biopic of Snowden. The film, which will be released in spring 2016, traces the whistleblower’s rise from lowly army enlistee to the National Security Agency contractor who exposed the U.S. government’s classified surveillance program.

But Stone isn’t just concerned about capturing the saga behind Snowden’s incredible leaks. He wants to make sure that no hacker comes after his film and leaks its secrets before the movie’s release. “It’s a major concern for every filmmaker,” he tells me, during a break from shooting. And it’s one that’s even more pronounced with a movie that promises to reveal more about Snowden than the world yet knows. “If you can hack his story,” Stone says with caution, “it would be a big prize.” In a way, Stone is making a meta-movie that no one has seen before, building a firewall around a film whose subject is an icon of bad infosec.

This explains the stealthy guy with the Fu Manchu beard milling around the set. He’s Ralph Echemendia, Hollywood’s go-to digital bodyguard, a reformed hacker from the dark side who now helps filmmakers, celebrities, and moguls keep their valuable data secure. It’s a challenge that’s only compounding as Hollywood — like the rest of the world — moves more and more of its content and communications online. “The concern is a lack of control,” Echemendia tells me.

Stone says such precautions, while new, are “the wave of the future.”•

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I don’t think there was a conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy, and I can’t take anyone seriously who refers to Oliver Stone’s ridiculous JFK movie to argue the contrary. It’s not that a lot of people didn’t want him dead, but I don’t think Lee Harvey Oswald was the trigger man for any group. Oswald probably acted alone. He almost definitely wasn’t in cahoots with Cuba or Russia or any other foreign power. It’s somewhat possible he may have been acting in concert with American mob figures, but it’s doubtful, and there’s no good proof of any such cabal. Jack Ruby likewise probably acted alone in murdering Oswald, envisioning himself as a national hero for his deed. 

There is one interesting theory that can’t be completely dismissed: Perhaps the final bullet that struck and killed the President was an accidental discharge from a Secret Service agent. This idea has survived for three reasons: 1) The last bullet impacted differently than the first, causing an explosion of flesh 2) Some doubt Oswald’s ability for such pinpoint accuracy at such a distance with such a cheap weapon 3) Quite a few witnesses on the ground reported smelling gunpowder.

I don’t believe this theory, either. Ammo can react differently in different situations and a direct hit to the back from one angle will not necessarily create the same result as one to the head from another. Oswald was a highly trained marksman, and I think it’s very possible he could reach a target in a slow-moving vehicle. Bullets hitting more than one person and causing someone’s brain to explode might cause a smell that’s similar to gunpowder. There were also likely tires straining quickly in every direction which can cause a burning smell. And let’s remember that the witness closest to Oswald in the book depository distinctly heard three registers.

During the first 35 minutes of a recent Grantland podcast, Bill Simmons and Chris Connelly interview Bill James, who subscribes to the Secret Service theory. In addition to being one of baseball’s sabermetrics pioneers, James has written about the assassination in his book on true crime. I was disappointed by James’ stance in the wake of the Penn State pedophilia scandal, but he’s very sober-minded in this discussion. The only comment James makes in the podcast that I take issue with is his assertion that Oswald striking Kennedy more than once in a matter of seconds is tantamount to James himself being able to hit a home run off Roger Clemens. It’s a poor analogy. Oswald had a professional level of marksmanship and James does not have that level of athletic ability, especially in middle age. And James didn’t seem to be employing hyperbole. But it’s an interesting conversation overall.• Listen here.

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