History is Alt-Reality: The Roots of the Oliver Stone Approach

Oliver Stone’s early career remediation of (American) history firmly places media as part of chaotic history and blurs the line between reality and fiction. His first use of archive footage is in Scarface, mapped out in his screenplay:

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Salvador opens on footage of soldiers shooting demonstrators before an on screen credit: “This film is based on events that occurred in 1980-1981. Characters have been fictionalized.” Stone is telling stories, using archive footage of a specific event to ground his narratives: reality as backdrop. However it is with JFK that Stone enters his “hyperreal period” (Laist, 2012).

Stone uses archive footage to create a kinetic montage that becomes narrative itself. Towards the end of the sequence we see a reconstruction of the assassination day; multiple formats filming actors in a manner identical to actual archive, unless the viewer is fully conversant with the footage available:

[F]ilm constructs its fictions through the deliberate manipulation of photographed reality itself, so that in cinema artifice and reality become quite literally indistinguishable (Cook, 1990:93-94)

JFK is a visual onslaught that mingles archive and cinematographic technique (‘home-movie’ and newsreel aesthetics), a blistering editing style and a narrative barrage of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy that renders one almost insensible.

JFK and Natural Born Killers incite their audiences not by journalistically exposing social problems, but by deconstructing the fabric of social reality itself. These films reconceive cinema not as a tool of mimesis, but as a window into an alternate mode of reality that blends reality and representation into a hybrid ontological register. (Laist, 2012)

As such, the viewer is in a state of submission by the time we hear “Back and to the left” repeated in the courtroom and more willing to accept the film’s coup d’état counter-myth (Ebert, 1991).

Tony Pomfret


Cook, DA. (1990). A History of Narrative Film, 2nd ed. New York: WW Norton

Laist, R. (2012). Murder and Montage: Oliver Stone’s Hyperreal Period. Mediascape. Available at: http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Winter2013_OliverStoneHyperreal.html (Accessed 23 Feb 2017)

Ebert, R. (1991). Oliver Stone Defends JFK Against Conspiracy Of Dunces. Roger Ebert. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/oliver-stone-defends-jfk-against-conspiracy-of-dunces (Accessed 23 Feb 2017)


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