The Untold History of the United States
|The Untold History of the United States|
|Created by||Oliver Stone|
|Directed by||Oliver Stone|
|Narrated by||Oliver Stone|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||12|
|Production company(s)||Ixtlan Productions|
|Original release||November 12, 2012 –|
October 15, 2013
The Untold History of the United States (also known as Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States) is a 2012 documentary series created, directed, produced, and narrated by Oliver Stone about the reasons behind the Cold War, the decision to drop the atomic bombs, and changes in America's global role since the fall of Communism.
Production and release
Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick (director of American University's Nuclear Studies Institute) began working on the project in 2008. Stone, Kuznick and British screenwriter Matt Graham co-wrote the script. The documentary miniseries for Showtime had a working title Oliver Stone's Secret History of America. Kuznick objected to the working title "Secret History", claiming that "the truth is that many of our 'secrets' have been hidden on the front page of the New York Times. If people think the secrets will be deep, dark conspiracies, they'll be disappointed. We'll be drawing on the best recent scholarship". It was subsequently retitled The Untold History of the United States.
The series covers "the reasons behind the Cold War with the Soviet Union, U.S. President Harry Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, and changes in America's global role since the fall of Communism." Stone is the director and narrator of ten regular episodes and two prologue episodes. The series is a reexamination of some of the underreported and darkest parts of American modern history, using little-known documents and newly uncovered archival material. The series looks beyond official versions of events to the deeper causes and implications and explores how events from the past still have resonant themes for the present day. Stone said, "From the outset I've looked at this project as a legacy to my children and a way to understand the times I've lived through. I hope it can contribute to a more global insight into our American history."
The first three episodes of the series premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 6, 2012, with Indiewire describing them as "extremely compelling" and "daring." The series was personally presented by Stone at the Subversive Festival on May 4, 2013, in Zagreb, Croatia, which next to film screenings also included debates and public lectures by prominent intellectuals such as Slavoj Žižek and Tariq Ali.
Stone described the project as "the most ambitious thing I've ever done. Certainly in documentary form, and perhaps in fiction, feature form." Production took four years to complete. Stone confessed, "It was supposed to take two years, but it's way over schedule". The premiere was finally set for November 12, 2012. Stone spent $1 million of his own money on the film as the budget inflated from $3 million to $5 million.
Regarding the program's accuracy, Stone told TV host Tavis Smiley: "This has been fact checked by corporate fact checkers, by our own fact checkers, and fact checkers [hired] by Showtime. It's been thoroughly vetted... these are facts, our interpretation may be different than orthodox, but it definitely holds up." 
The Untold History of the United States was released on Blu-ray on October 15, 2013. All ten episodes of the show are featured on four discs, and the Blu-ray release also includes various bonus content, as well as two prologue episodes. The first prologue episode deals with World War I, the Russian Revolution and Woodrow Wilson. The second prologue episode highlights the pre-World War II era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The series was released on DVD on March 4, 2014; it is currently available for streaming on Netflix.
The ten-part series is supplemented by a 750-page companion book, The Untold History of the United States, also written by Stone and Kuznick, released on Oct 30, 2012 by Simon & Schuster.
The audiobook was released by Brilliance Publishing on June 4, 2013. The Untold History of the United States audiobook was also written by Stone and Kuznick, narrated by Peter Berkrot. It runs 36 hours and 25 minutes.
Style and format
The series has been said to be reminiscent of the famed British Thames Television series The World at War (1973–74). With the exception of an on-camera introduction and conclusion by Oliver Stone, the series contains no interview subjects. Instead, each episode consists of archival material: stock film, photographs, video and audio recordings, computer generated maps and diagrams, clips from fictional movies, and Stone's voiceover narration. Historical quotations and writings from various figures are read by voice actors.
List of movies and TV shows used
Oliver Stone used clips from about 60 fictional movies and TV shows over the course of The Untold History of the United States. He used them as a vehicle for telling stories of specific topics during given episodes.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick provide a critical overview of US foreign policy during the past few decades. ... Such a perspective is indispensable at a time when decisions are being taken that will shape America's role in the global world of the twenty-first century. At stake is whether the United States will choose to be the policeman of a "Pax Americana", which is a recipe for disaster, or partner with other nations on the way to a safer, more just and sustainable future.
David Wiegand wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle: "The films are at their best when they provide a panoramic view of our history in the middle part of the 20th century. Ably abetted by the superb editing work by Alex Marquez". Verne Gay for Newsday similarly praised the craft: "By far the most interesting part of 'Untold' is the visual presentation. Stone has cobbled together a mother lode of chestnuts, including grainy newsreel footage and Soviet propaganda films. It's all weirdly engrossing" but found the content less than provocative: "You keep waiting for a fresh insight, a new twist, a bizarre fact and after a while would even be profoundly grateful for some wacky Stone revisionism. It never comes. What's 'untold' here?"
In November 2012, historian Ronald Radosh of the conservative Hudson Institute (who was averse to the project from its announcement and encouraged a write-in campaign to cancel the series) lambasted it as "mendacious" Cold War revisionism and "mindless recycling of Stalin's propaganda," claiming similarities to Communist author and NKVD agent Carl Marzani's Soviet-published treatise We Can Be Friends. Radosh wrote:
Over and over, Stone uses the same quotations, the same arrangements of material, and the same arguments as Marzani. This is not to accuse Stone of plagiarism, only to point out that the case he now offers as new was argued in exactly the same terms by an American Communist and Soviet agent in 1952.
Libertarian journalist Michael C. Moynihan criticized the book for "moral equivalence between the policies of the psychotically brutal Soviet Union and the frequently flawed policy of the United States" and called the title "misleading" in that nothing within the book was "untold" previously. Moynihan also claimed factual errors and questionable sources.
In 2013, Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz also remarked that the book and films "have a misleading title" and that "Most if not all of the interpretations that they present... have appeared in revisionist histories of American foreign policy written over the last fifty years". Wilentz went on to say:
Although the book by Stone and Kuznick is heavily footnoted, the sourcing...recalls nothing so much as Dick Cheney’s cherry-picking of intelligence, particularly about the origins and early years of the cold war. ... This book is less a work of history than a skewed political document....
Untold History Education Project
In October 2013, Stone, Kuznick, and Eric Singer launched the Untold History Education Project to expand upon the narratives and events discussed in the Untold History documentary series and book. The project is devoted to fostering critical thinking and debate amongst students and teachers in high schools and universities. With the input of educators and historians, Stone, Kuznick and Singer also designed a curriculum guide for the series and primary source-based lesson plans for each episode.
- Prequels (only on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix)
- Episode A: 1900-1920 - World War I, The Russian Revolution & Woodrow Wilson
- Episode B: 1920-1940 - Roosevelt, Hitler, Stalin: The Battle of Ideas
- Season 1
- Chapter 1: World War II
- Chapter 2: Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace
- Chapter 3: The Bomb
- Chapter 4: The Cold War: 1945-1950
- Chapter 5: The '50s: Eisenhower, the Bomb & The Third World
- Chapter 6: JFK: To the Brink
- Chapter 7: Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune
- Chapter 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Rise of the Right
- Chapter 9: Bush & Clinton: American Triumphalism – New World Order
- Chapter 10: Bush & Obama: Age of Terror
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I've seen the first four installments and cannot recommend it highly enough.
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- Wilentz, Sean (2013), “Cherry-Picking Our History”; New York Review of Books, (21 February issue)