Salvador (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
of the greatest filmmaking occurs when talent and passion collide.
Orson Welles not only hated Hearst's smug right-wing journalism, but
had met and despised the man himself.
Much like Citizen Kane, Salvador was a semi-documentary work by a youthful filmmaker who was passionate about the subject. In this case, the filmmaker was Oliver Stone and the subject was America's hypocritical policy toward countries with human rights abuses by "anti-communists". In 1984, Stone met Richard Boyle, a journalist who can best be described as Hunter Thompson in the war zone. Boyle was reckless, outspoken, degenerate, living a life totally out of control. At the time that he was introduced to Stone, his only true credentials came from a book he had written 15 years earlier. Purely by accident, Stone spotted an oil-stained manuscript in the cluttered back seat of Boyle's car, asked about it, and found that it was an unpublished collection of stories about Boyle's experiences in El Salvador. Stone volunteered to read it, and determined immediately that he would make a film of it by hook or by crook.
What a great story it was. Down on his luck in 1979, without money or a job, in jail for unsettled traffic violations, abandoned by his wife and unable to pay his rent, Boyle was bailed out by an old crony, San Francisco DJ Dr Rock. Since Rock was similarly down on his luck, the two irresponsible stoners conceived a plan to get in Boyle's beat-up jalopy and take a road trip to Central America. Boyle convinced Rock that they were going to Guatemala to kick back and enjoy some high life on the cheap, but his real plan was to return to El Salvador and use some of his old contacts there to resuscitate his journalistic career.
Both of them ended up with more than they bargained for. As they drove along, smoking dope and talking shit, their world was instantly changed by the initial signs of Salvadoran reality: badly burned and mutilated bodies on the roadside, their first sight of a peasant shot in cold blood by the military, and a harrowing trip in a tank to their presumed death. They didn't die, but they came close several times. Boyle found a colonel who was an old buddy, and they were suddenly set free in the new El Salvador. Totally penniless at first, they struggled to make some kind of a life there, Boyle trying to get his story, Rock complaining a lot while trying to score drugs and floozies.
The images in the film, and the story behind the film, are spectacular. They managed to get as much of a film out of two million dollars as could humanly be done. It is, in my opinion, very close to masterpiece status. Stone kept it from being a true work of genius by spoiling it with heavy-handedness. Here are three examples:
the long run, though, I don't think that Stone's sledgehammer was so
very obtrusive, because the film had so many great scenes and so many
strengths. The film does an excellent job of showing how cynical
Central Americans used the naive U.S. policies and president to
promote their cruel and corrupt schemes. I guess you all know this,
but the USA was paranoid about Communism back then, and President
Reagan tended to measure the worth of men by how ardently they opposed
Communism. Mind you, Reagan was not an evil man. He believed in
freedom and capitalism, and he opposed the forces aligned against
those ideals. Nothing wrong with that. But Reagan was a simple man,
and cynical people in the United States and elsewhere knew how to
position themselves in order to exploit Reagan's na´vetÚ. It was
easy. If you were a US general or colonel looking for a promotion or
your own operation, come up with a scheme to defeat Communism somewhere in the
globe. If you were a Latin American leader of some kind, just raise
the flag of Communism in your opposition's camp, and the USA would
come to the rescue with arms, advisors, and money. All you had to do
was just tell Reagan you were an anti-Communist, give him your Swiss
bank account number, and wait for the deposits to start. The regime that
America supported in El Salvador was one of the worst of all the evil
regimes America supported during those cold war times, and the
American administration insisted on defending its position, against
the contrary reports of American journalists. They even stayed in
denial after reading the contrary reports of the
American ambassador in El Salvador. Here's a minor list of the
In addition to the serious political analysis in the film, there is also James Belushi to provide excellent comic relief, and a chance for us in the audience to see the situation through his "average Joe" eyes. I loved his first reaction to El Salvador - "there's shit in the streets, dead bodies rotting in public, trash everywhere (as he throws a beer bottle from the window of the car). It's like going to Baltimore"
James Woods won an Oscar nomination for a characterization which still may be the greatest he has ever created. He got a chance to do more than create a real person. He got to create a real person who was a crazy, larger-than-life guy, and a complete weasel despite some good intentions. Stone was quoted as saying of Boyle, "he's a sleazoid, a rake, a no-good really crazy guy, but interesting".
Woods genuinely deserved that acting nomination. The documentary revealed that his famous confessional scene was improvised.
This is a great DVD. Oliver works hard on his movies, and he works hard to create great DVD's as well. Between his commentary and his co-operation with the documentary, he gives us a complete understanding of what it was like to be involved in the film, as well as in the original incidents. In addition to an excellent transfer of the theatrical version in a 1.85 aspect ratio enhanced for 16x9 screens, there is
I don't say this very often, folks, but this package is a must-own for film buffs. Great DVD, important film, Oscar-nominated performance, young director in his first great film, fascinating politics, real story written by a guy who was there ....etc.
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