The Masters of Controversy

Through each of their professions, they have individually shaped the 20th and 21st century. Their professions, of course, delve deep into the chaotic realm of controversy: whether it is politics or cinema.

President George W Bush, whether you consider him to be a pariah, savior or a plain old fool, has attracted all sorts of attention and created perhaps the most controversy in the 21st century. Whether it is the hunt for the elusive weapons of mass destruction, the inability to converse, or good ol' fashioned greed, President Bush has had his fair share of controversy. There have been many writers, movie-makers and entertainers who have had caught on to his coattails and tailgated along for a boost in their career.

But Oliver Stone's career needed no such boost.

Stone's movies have always attracted attention from the media, whether good or bad and have made people think twice about the things they thought they knew so well. It was Stone's interest in Bush's controversial life that has brought about Stone's latest project W to life.

Stone was mentored by Martin Scorsese in NYU Film School, is best friends with Fidel Castro, has directed eight actors to individual Oscar winning performances and served in the US Army near the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War. It was here that he was wounded twice in action. His personal awards include the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor for "extraordinary acts of courage under fire", and the Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Stone would go on to make three movies about Vietnam, but more on that later.

His initial foray into screenwriting spread evenly across most genres, starting from his student film entitled Last Year in Viet Nam (1971), followed by the gritty horror film Seizure (1974), Midnight Express (1978), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Scarface (1983). Stone won his first Oscar for Midnight Express (1978) and this was just the beginning of his career.

It was clear that the more controversial the matter, the more Stone's interest in it. He has made three films about Vietnam – Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993). For Stone, these films are a very personal trilogy even though they are inspired by other people's stories. Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone's experience of war and combat. Born on the Fourth of July is based on the story of war veteran Ron Kovic. Heaven & Earth is derived from the memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, the true story of a Vietnamese girl whose life is drastically affected by the war.

During this same period, Stone directed Wall Street (1987), which earned Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor; Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio (1988), and The Doors (1991), starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. However, it was the film after this that truly cemented Stone’s career as a master of controversy. JFK (1991) was a star spangled cast of who’s who of Hollywood, with Kevin Costner leading the cast. Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, and John Candy all starred in this no holds barred look at one of the most shocking moments in America’s history, the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. In true Stone fashion, this movie is more than just the assassination of a political figure; it is about the assassination of a political ideal, or even, as some say, the assassination of democracy itself.

Stone then made Natural Born Killers (1994) starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Robert Downey Jr. and Rodney Dangerfield. The movie, an adaptation of one of Quentin Tarantino’s earlier screenwriting works, was the story of the love and hate relationship of the media and violence. Stone’s movie was a kaleidoscope of violence and satire. Blurring the line between funny and offensive, the movie was filled with gruesome scenes of violence, juxtaposed with scenes of comedic nuances—more specifically black comedy. Nixon (1995), with Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen, earned nominations for the actors and Stone for screenwriting, but failed to recover its budget.

During this time, Stone had slowed down in his movie making. Even the subject matter had saturated from spicy to quite bland. U-Turn (1997) had a very interesting storyline but was perhaps more Hitchcock intrigue and less Stone’s controversy. Any Given Sunday (1999) saw Stone veer off into the world of American Football and it wouldn’t be until 5 years that we’d see the director come back and do a film that he’d wanted to do for a life time. Alexander (2004) is perhaps Stone’s most epic film to date. The story of the great king who had conquered most of the known world, perhaps echoed the story of the director who had come so far in life and was desperate to rediscover himself. Again, the film failed to find an audience and barely recovered its budget through international DVD sales.

It wasn’t until World Trade Center (2006) that Stone finally found rediscovered himself and found his voice. Starring Nicolas Cage, the movie finally cemented the director with audiences and critics alike. And now, with the upcoming W, Stone sticks with what he knows best and delves knee deep in controversial subject matter once again. In the much anticipated movie Stone revisits the tumultuous youth of a man who came from a wealthy, oil family and whose father, George H. Bush, was also president—and his rise to power. "I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, pre-emptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors," he told a Hollywood magazine.

As usual, Stone found the process of making a political biopic motion picture quite difficult. “Nobody wanted to finance this film,” Stone told AFP, “Every studio said no. You’d be surprised to know the number of people in the business who don’t want to have their name associated with politics. This thing almost never got made.” But it did get made and cheaply at that too, thanks to tax cut incentives for only $30 million.

Speaking on being neutral on the subject matter, Stone told AFP, “Fifty million people voted for him on two occasions, He was in the same league for a long time as Ronald Reagan, until he became so offensive.” He told USA Today he had "tried to stay human to this man. People get me confused with my outspoken citizen side. But I'm a dramatist first and foremost. I am not interested in that radical 15 percent that hate Bush or the 15 or 20 percent who love Bush,” he said. “That's not our audience. Those people probably won't come. I'm interested in that 60 percent in the American middle who at least have a little more open mind.'

But however, Bush wasn't the only real life personality portrayed in the upcoming movie. The cast reads like a who's who of politics and hollywood: Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Jesse Bradford as Thatcher, a college buddy of Bush, James Cromwell as George H. W. Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney (originally, Stone was interested in Robert Duvall for the role, but he turned it down), Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush, Ioan Gruffudd, Jason Ritter as Jeb Bush, Noah Wyle as Donald Evans, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Toby Jones as Karl Rove. Josh Brolin steps into the shoes of the American President and he spoke about the role to EW Magazine, especially about the mannerisms such as the walk, "It changes over the years, how he walks in his 30s, how he walks in foreign lands, before 9/11 and afterward. People hold their emotions in their bodies. They can't fake it. Especially him."

When news broke that W was in production, Stone told the movie industry newspaper Variety that the movie would ask a very simple question: 'How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?' Bush, a former Texas governor, has never hidden the fact that he once battled alcoholism, but says he quit after a particularly heavy night on his 40th birthday in 1986 and has not touched a drop since.

Stone is a three-time Oscar winner. His directed films have been nominated for 31 Academy Awards, including eight for acting, six for screen writing, and three for directing. Not only is he well suited for making a movie about one of the most controversial figures of the 21st century, he is also the most capable since throughout his career, controversy has played a vital part in Oliver Stone’s success.

President Bush's actions have secured him a place in history books for years to come, but it will be Stone's portrayal of his character that will truly immortalize the President.

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The Aunty Disco Project Tea Party

Underground band Aunty Disco Project's have surfaced with a new video, titled "Nazar". True to ADP style, it is quirky, surreal and – wait for it – commercial!

Omar Bilal Akhtar, the band's singer and songwriter, admits with a laugh, "Yeah, this is our first commercial video." The video itself may be commercial, but it sticks with the spirit of the band, "All we told the director, Umer Adil, was that we wanted it to be funny, which was very important to us," says the singer/songwriter. Although the video is funny, in a surreal way there is more to it than just that.

The track itself is very unlike ADP, a slow graceful number that reflects the band's true essence. "It was a different pace from what we do: hardrock covers, headbanging, but this was a very introspective track, and everybody on the band loves it. And it's quite personal to me."

Omar, or Oba as he is known, sounds much relaxed and calm about the fact that they are now veering into territory they thought they'd never venture into. "This is definitely one of the most easy listening tracks that we have, it's quite commercial." This is from the band that totally scoffed at the idea of anything commercial when they broke out with their self-released album, almost a year ago.

They did name drop a few directors back then, but it was pretty clear that they were steering clear from anything too commercial. Not anymore as Oba states: "Ali Alam's been a great influence on us, not just on our music, but as musicians. He was the one who introduced us to Umer Adil." And what about Alam's involvement in ADP? "We're negotiating at the moment," laughs Oba, "although we're writing songs and helping each other out, we're still touring together as a live act."

Before I can ask him, Oba gets one thing clear, "Imran is not a part of the band anymore." At first, one can assume that the separation was tumultuous, but Oba makes it absolutely clear: "He has his own career now and we have ours, but even with that we're helping each other out all the way through. We remain good friends." Even though they are one less Aunty, the band is adamant they are still ready to Disco it out.

From one Omar to another, Umer Adil, the director, has established himself with niche TV shows, from gardening, cooking to children's programs. Along with his wife, Beenish Waiz, the two of them came up with the concept of the video and presented it to the band. "When I first heard the song," says Umer, "I immediately had the image of the jester figurine [one of the first frames in the video] in my mind." He ran with the entire story of the video and it was pretty clear that they were meticulous with their storytelling. "We then expanded upon the fact that the jester is the storyteller and other nuances, so much that people will actually enjoy watching it over and over again."

The video opens on each band member, individually, from Oba's serenading on the guitar, to Omar Khalid's slumber on the hammock, to Yasir's chess playing. Seemingly each character is not connected, that is until we are introduced to the Tea Lady. Played by a friend of Oba, Natasha portrays a mysterious character, living in the middle of the forest, in what clearly appears to be an allegory to the Hut of Baba Yaga. And upon watching the video for the second time, I was picking up things I had not seen before. "That's the thing," states Umer, "it's open ended enough so that everyone understands it, but at the same time, it is open to interpretation and is multi-layered."

Shot on a farm outside Karachi, the video is one part costume drama and one part tea party satire. In it, the boys appear dressed in costume and get called upon by model Natasha, for tea. But nothing is what it appears to be, subtle hints dropped along the way, blink and you'll miss them moments and especially the twist ending, is what makes this video one to look out for.

The video is now airing on all channels. And now that the work is done both Umer and Oba are quickly getting on to other things. "I'm doing and will do a few documentaries at the moment," says Umer and I ask him about doing more music videos. "If the song is good enough," he replies.

Meanwhile, Oba and the group are busy writing new songs. "We've written quite a few now, they're interesting and different, but we don't want to do the same old songs over again. I think this is going to be a totally fresh start."

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