I have a growing feeling that when we get to Stone's third Castro documentary, all I'm going to be able to do is put up a picture of Cuba as my response. South of the Border is more interesting than the documentaries we've watched previously, but most of that's due to the form. Here Stone interjects his own opinions and some historical narration as a framing device rather than just listening to the subjects speak—it livens things up just long enough for you to realize that he's still not delving too deeply into any complexities inherent to the situations he's documenting.
I really don't have much to say here. Stone is captivated by men whose ideologies and passion bring them into great power and how that power complicates the pureness of the first part. It's a fascinating topic, but these documentaries can't strike the right balance between critical exploration and giving a voice to their subjects.
There are some interesting moments where Stone begins to outline some of the specific ways media or U.S. involvements attempt to alter the course of history in these countries, and an even more interesting comparison could be made between these efforts (made often in the dark or deliberately obscured) and the revolutions themselves, also struggles for control but made in the open. The essential aspect of public involvement and support is a theme throughout this and the previous documentaries. I want to see more of how that support evolves once the leaders are in place, and Stone keeps shying away from it.My feeling once the film was over is that it's a bit more robust than a picture of Cuba on a stick bouncing up and down with poppa Castro appearing in the corner. The historical narration had only a passing mention of Castro as he is sort of the elder statesman of these developing South American countries. Stone more uses that as a through line between the now three documentaries instead of making many direct comparisons. It's his way of pointing out, without explicitly stating, that these countries are all in the same period of awkward growth and the starting point they all came from.
I agree that this would be an excellent series but the film holds up better on its own better than you're giving it credit for. To begin, Stone is trying to paint on a very wide canvas, showing how each of the South American countries has been meandering toward Socialism in their own way. Considering how much tendency American media has to just lump a group of people together in a single category and call it a day Stone did a very good job of showing the clear differences between leadership in different scenarios. There's enough of a background foundation to see why the transition occurred and what developments the countries have made from there.
True, there's little in the way of analysis after the transition but since Stone also lays out his purpose to deflate the then-standard narrative from the G.W. administration his film is quite entertaining. Hugo Chavez made for a great anchor into the analysis considering the many attempts to lump him in with the Axis of Evil. Chavez is clearly not as interested in being a photogenic and well-spoken model for the cause. You can see this especially when walking around with Stone and Chavez has to be directed where to stand and who Stone is trying to get him to talk to. It shows the theatricality is less on Chavez's end and more out of cinematic necessity from Stone. I loved the moment Chavez is playing with the street band looking like he'd like to be sitting back behind his desk more than anything else.
That touch made the leaders in South of the Border much more human and gave their revolutions more meaning. It's a light film, but it accomplishes Stone's purpose with little pomp and is all the better for it.
So, where's the controversy?
By challenging the version of these South American leaders that's perpetuated by U.S. media and the government, Stone creates controversy for those who'd be surprised that the U.S. media and government may lie about things not in their best interests.
The subtitle for your statement, or at least a footnote, should read "Meaning very few will find this controversial." Since Stone's purpose for the film was admittedly broad I don't know how anyone could find something to get upset about. I suppose there may be someone, somewhere, who finds the idea of chewing coca leaves offensive (other than the obvious objectors at the start of the film) but Stone really does play fair here (he even avoids demonizing the U.S. administration quite a bit).
How did Stone capture the zeitgeist this time?
He does a fairly good job of capturing the spirit of rolling revolution in the South American countries he visits. One of the most effective things about the movie is the way it gradually develops the relationships, direct or ideological, between a group of new(ish) leaders trying to create a more independent, united continent (one of them likens their efforts to creating a kind of European Union for South America).
I love how he captures the strong optimism of these governments and also allows time to see their equally strong opponents. Unfortunately, because the film does go so broad, it's hard at times to realize just how recently all of these events were happening. Also, since it didn't take place when the G.W. administration was actively trying to demonize the South American governments it takes some of the immediate bite out of the film.
On a personal note, I did feel a twinge of sadness in a post-script to the film when Stone mentions that Obama has been elected and one leader said that he hopes Obama would be a new Roosevelt. I love some of the things that Obama has done, but I'm sure we could substitute Eisenhower in there now and barely miss a beat.
That's interesting, but is it any good?
I would have loved to see this as a series. With more time devoted to providing a solid historical context for each country's revolution, then a Stone-esque portrait of the leaders, then connective tissue making a larger point about the region as a whole, this could have been a masterful documentary. Trying to get everything he wants to show into an hour and fifteen minutes is a little like giving us the Cliffs Notes.
I'll take your answer as a yes and toss in my own with the same criticism. I enjoyed the film more than you did and Stone does a very good job with his compressed pace and broad topic of South American governmental changes. But I share your wish for more information. These leaders, possibly due to their youth compared to Castro, seemed much more open and at ease with Stone. I would have loved to get some more context to where their governments went after formation (especially with the attempts to remove Chavez after his many elections) but I'm happy with what we see.