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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Oliver Stone's 'Bromance' with Vladimir Putin

Caption from The Telegraph: Sycophantic: Oliver Stone's 20-hour interview with Putin was criticised for its chumminess Credit: YouTube

“I just played ice hockey… and [yet] you’re the one who is tired!” jokes Russian President Vladimir Putin to a sleepy Oliver Stone. “Your muscles must hurt,” the soft-spoken filmmaker replies, flashing a toothy smile. It is episode three of the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s fawning four-part documentary series, The Putin Interviews, and I feel like I’m caught in the middle of a blossoming bromance.
Released on June 12, 2017, while the United States was still digesting the idea of a Trump presidency, The Putin Interviews were marketed by major network Showtime as an “unprecedented event”. With its All The Presidents Men-style typeface and snappy trailer that hinted at Frost vs. Nixon-style revelations, there was hope an Oscar-winning Stone might just make Putin sweat a little, especially around corrosive issues like rebuilding the Soviet Union (and what this might mean for Russia’s neighbours) or hacking a US election.
With 20 hours of footage that stretched from 2015 to 2017, there had to be something meaty in there, surely? This wasn’t the first time Stone had interviewed a divisive political figure. However, just like previous Oliver Stone interviews with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, the narrative of The Putin Interviews is more preoccupied with making a warm, fuzzy human being out of a dictator than pressing them on their indiscretions.
There is one particular scene that feels like a teenage fanboy getting the chance to meet their favourite pop star. “Do you ever have a bad day?” Stone wonders, open-eyed and dizzy with optimism. “I’m not a woman, so I don’t have a bad day. That’s just the nature of things,” answers Putin while walking through the golden corridors of the Kremlin. Of course, this casual male chauvinism is passed off by Putin with a shrug of the shoulder.

The Telegraph discussed Stone's disastrous performance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

In an interview with Stephen Colbert to promote this Showtime series, Stone argued his extremely laid-back approach to dealing with Putin was based on the idea that “you don’t make butter with vinegar”. As the studio audience laughs hysterically at Colbert’s joke that Stone’s puppy was probably being held hostage by the Russians off camera, the JFK director looks like he wants the ground to swallow him up.

Actor T.J. Miller was on the show and he couldn’t help tweeting exactly what happened:

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 19m Oh my fucking god. Oliver Stone just jaw droppingly praised Vladimir Putin and talk down to @stephenAtHome asking if he knew what WikiLeaks

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 19m …was. My god. He implied Putin never killed anyone and our own intelligence agencies planted malware…good. God. He’s fucking crazy.

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 18m The audience was boo’ing and laughing at him. The entire @ColbertShow audience was aghast. Fucking nightmare. He said Israel meddled—

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 17m In our election more than Russia. He’s a lunatic. He made every wrong move you can make. He didn’t know his audience, he snapped at them.

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 10m Colbert became visibly aggressive & he very well should have. Oliver stone was hardly cogent in his points—was dodging & weaving like Hilary.

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller -. 9m Wow. I can’t believe all that just happened. You HAVE to tune into @ColbertShow show tonight. IT WAS VERY MUCH INSANE. I mean this is bad.

T.J. Miller ✔@nottjmiller . 5m Oliver Stone just layed the biggest egg ever on @Colbertshow It’s official. He laid an egg. In the truest definition of the expression.

The interview with Oliver Stone was edited down. As T. J. Miller noted, Stone said some ridiculous stuff about Israel:

A Page Six source who was in the audience for the taping of the network’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Monday told us that the political spat was “painful to watch.”
The audience member explained that as Colbert pressed Oscar winner Stone — who was promoting his new Vladimir Putin Showtime series, “The Putin Interviews” — on his apparent sympathy for the Russian president in spite of claims about Russian interference in the US election, Stone, at a disadvantage, tried to shift the talk to Israel.
The source said they “watched from behind [their] hands” as Stone said words to the effect of: “Israel had far more involvement in the US election than Russia.”
The “Platoon” director further challenged Colbert by saying, “Why don’t you ask me about that?” — but we’re told that the host shot back, “I’ll ask you about that when you make a documentary about Israel!”
(The source described Stone’s Israeli argument as “a classic anti-Semitic canard.”)

The Telegraph mentions the scene where Stone and Putin watch Dr. Strangelove together, but that is not even the strangest part of the interviews:

Perhaps the most bizarre moment – well, aside from Stone forcing an unimpressed Putin (“It’s make-believe!”) to sit through Kubrick’s classic nuclear war satire Dr. Strangelove – is when Stone asks Putin about his grandchildren. “Do you play with them in the garden?” Stone beams, likely conjuring up images of Brando’s Don Corleone stumbling around an orange tree chasing a terrified toddler. “Very seldom,” says the Russian leader, revealing he gets in at 1.30AM and wakes up at 7AM.
Suddenly, poignant violin music rises into focus and a stock image of Putin riding a horse appears in the centre of the screen. It feels like pure propaganda designed to celebrate a tireless, sympathetic leader who is “too busy” to play with the kids. Goebbels would have been proud.

What's next for Oliver Stone?

In the years since The Putin Interviews, Stone has continued his journey as a seemingly non-confrontational political interviewer. In 2021, he released an eight-hour film series about Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Just like his Putin film, it has been attacked by critics for being toothless and basking too much in the glow of an alpha male subject.
Wherever the 75-year-old film veteran’s career goes next (and a Trump interview is surely an inevitability), The Putin Interviews will mark a full circle moment where Stone completed his journey from creating anti-establishment films like Born On The Fourth of July and Wall Street, which smartly stood up to abusers of power, to being someone who appears to indulge those same abusers with endless warmth. “Next time it will be more relaxing!” Stone promises Putin towards the climax of the fourth episode, despite the fact his interviewee has barely broken into a sweat and looks like he’s just finished laying in a hammock. Let’s hope there isn’t a next time.

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