Early in Dylan Bank, Morgan Pehme, Morgan Pehme and Daniel DiMauro’s documentary Get Me Roger Stone their title character lists the four facets of celebrity: “Who is Roger Stone?” “Get me Roger Stone?” “Find me a Roger Stone-type” and “Who is Roger Stone?” By the end of their story you’ll know who Roger Stone is and either admire his tenacity or loathe how he’s twisted and schemed the political structure into the mess it is now.
The first President Roger Stone ever worked with was Nixon. Since then Stone’s been at the forefront for every major Republican campaign, from Reagan to Trump, acting as a “dirty trickster” whose love of tabloid gossip destroys his enemies.
Described as a “sinister Forrest Gump,” it’s insane to think of how Roger Stone has inserted himself into nearly ever major political scandal since the 1970s. Despite his parents Democratic leanings, Stone saw himself as a conservative from an early age. Drawn to Richard Nixon, Stone inserted himself into Nixon’s campaign at the tender age of 19, and it’s a love that’s never died. Stone reveres “Tricky Dick,” a man after his own heart, so much that he boasts the largest collection of Nixon memorabilia, and even has the man’s face tattooed on his back!
Suppressing the giggles around watching Stone proudly display a Nixon bong isn’t easy, and it’s moments like these that Bank, Pehme and DiMauro hope can get you through what’s otherwise a very unsettling look at the politics at play today. Stone, who bears an uncanny resemblance to current Vice President Mike Pence, doesn’t care if audiences like him. “I revel in your hatred,” he says. And, really, he has a point. Though Stone is the face of a Republican party that embraces disinformation and tabloid rumor-mongering, he’s presented as just one of several.
It’s never properly explained why Stone agreed to the documentary. He tells his elderly mother that Bank, Pehme and DiMauro are from the liberal media and not to be trusted. But it mostly seems like Stone enjoys the attention. As he says in one of his many “Stone Rules,” “It’s better to be infamous than never to be famous at all.” He enjoys being infamous. He wants people to hate him and whether that’s all part of a closely cultivated persona is never fully clear. There are brief interviews with his wives, past and present, and his stepdaughter and step-granddaughter who say that he’s a good person at home. Stone wandering in his Edenic home, rocking a “Hilary for Prison” t-shirt while praising his family is the ultimate portrait of a complex man we never fully know, and maybe that’s the point. In a world where what we think we know and don’t know is constantly shifting, Stone is just one more cipher.
However, it’s impossible not to judge based on his words, and Get Me Roger Stone is packed to bursting with inflammatory statements. A majority of the documentary looks at the current election and the Trump campaign, described as a “pure Roger Stone production.” Sitting through videos of Trump rallies, bearded bikers, milquetoast young men rocking firearms, and every viral video of hate is enough to leave you demoralized, especially since it still feels so recent. But where the directors utilize it best is showing in how long this has gestated in our country, blossoming out into the firestorm that it is now. Stone worked with the belief that politics and celebrity could be synthesized using the unsophisticated citizen. Stone is content to acknowledge the “entertainment” of our current president.
His approach, considered “the low road,” is one reliant on what Stone coins “disinformation,” a tactic he swears he hasn’t used since grade school. The movie lets you be the judge of that. Stone claims he benefited from misinformation during Watergate, swears he knew a prostitute who claimed to slept with Elliot Spitzer, and alleged that Pat Buchanan had an illegitimate child, all techniques that destroyed their campaigns. By the time he says “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” it’s impossible to decide how much is Stone’s persona or personal belief, truth or a lie. He claims he says what he has to in order to get paid, but is that enough when the world at large believes it?
One of Stone’s rules is “past is fucking prologue” and that statement couldn’t be truer. Just listen to the campaign promises of Nixon, Reagan and Trump – all takes on “Make America Great Again” – and you’ll see history repeating itself. Stone, for all his hate-fire, is incredibly intelligent. He sees America for what it is and where it’s going, for better or worse.
Get Me Roger Stone is one of the more disturbing documentaries depending on your political leanings. You could just as easily say it’s showing the ingenuity of one American whose made good. Hell, I can’t even disagree. Roger Stone is quick, clever, and has survived through so scandal that you can’t help but admire him…and hate him. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. Roger Stone doesn’t care. But watching the documentary is a necessary evil worth undertaking.