Set in Stone
Award-winning director Oliver Stone makes no apologies
Three-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone is coming to Chico. The director, whose films include JFK, Nixon, Salvador, Platoon, Born of the Fourth of July, The Doors and Natural Born Killers, will be giving a lecture followed by a Q&A session tonight (Nov. 9) at the Chico State BMU Auditorium.
The CN&R spoke to Stone on the phone about his college appearances, his latest film, World Trade Center, and government conspiracies.
So you’re in China right now?
You’re there to shoot a cultural exchange promo for the Olympics?
I guess you could call it that. It’s a film for the Olympics about China.
What interested you in becoming involved in that?
I have an apartment here in Bejing. I have a history here, made films about Asia, and also World Trade Center is actually being released here later this month. So I was promoting that as well. But this is a longer-term development for next year and involves shooting around the city of Bejing. Hopefully it will go around the world.
Last month you returned from Europe, where you were promoting the WTC film. Is the film being received differently abroad than it is here?
It surpassed the domestic gross and is doing very well abroad as well as in America. Not blockbuster, but certainly very good. $350 million.
What about an emotional response, I imagine these people experienced the day differently than we did here in America?
Very much so. Politically it was very strongly anti-American in Germany and most of Europe. The high-brow press, so to speak, was extremely mean about it—I would say nasty. The lower-brow press was much more generous, and the box office was really good in most of the countries except, oddly enough, Germany and Russia were very weak. Across the board, we did very well in England and very poorly in Australia. That one is a shocker, too, because Australia generally follows England. So sometimes you can’t figure it all out. We did very well in Spain although we had horrible reviews, very anti-American, I can’t tell you … anti-Bush especially, anti-Iraq vehemently. So we faced a wrath of that and we were accused of manufacturing a patriotic film and so forth, which was not the intention of the movie. I gather you have seen it?
Yes, I have.
It’s just a statement of fact that it wasn’t quite promoting the American agenda at home.
I know a lot of people who, when they initially heard that you were doing a film about the Word Trade Center attacks, assumed that you were going to make a conspiracy-theory film because of the JFK link. How do you feel about audience and fan expectations of you as an artist?
It’s impossible. I mean I can’t match them. If I had made a conspiracy film [they’d say] “it’s an Oliver Stone film again” and there it goes, it would have been criticized that way. If I did what I did, it was like “that’s not an Oliver Stone film.” Well, you know if people were really fair and less superficial about this whole damned thing they would see the nature of the films I’ve done—they’ve all been different, they change. I say the one link in all of them, frankly, is intensity—power—and I’d say generally it adheres to a story about a hero or heroine who faces some adversity. Usually an adversity of a social kind embedded in a historical adversity that they overcome. So in that vein, this is very similar to Born of the Fourth of July, Platoon, even Wall Street, you could say. Films like that.
For the World Trade Center, how do you view the commissions report? Do you have a lot of questions yourself about that day?
The motive is clear. The alleged perpetrators of the crime took more than ample credit for it as well as we find a chain of evidence going back to the African bombings of ’98 and from there we can go further back to where there are connections to the ’93 bombing, so for me it’s a long stretch.
You see the JFK murder, you had the alleged perpetrator Oswald said very clearly, “I did not do this, I am a patsy.” And he was killed within 48 hours under suspicious circumstances. Now all his dialogue with the Dallas police department has vanished. It’s a completely 180-degree different case than what has gone down in the 9/11 story. There are many questions; it’s a huge event, 9/11, it was so awkward, so bizarre, the way all that happened. It makes it more palatable for some.
I heard that there were people protesting outside the opening of the film, handing out literature about how the film didn’t go far enough and it should have been about the so-called “Truth of 9/11.” You seemed damned either way.
I had the facts on this case. Two policemen, two wives. They are alive. They are well and able to tell this story. I had 40 rescuers working with me. This is as authentic as I could make it. When I did the JFK murder, at least I had 30 years distance and I had the work of 30 years, mostly 20 years of research by very concerned private citizens. So there was a lot of evidence out there, a lot of hearsay, a lot of material witnesses. In this case, the “war on terror” is a fascinating subject, but it’s too early to tell and every year we are learning something new about it. A book comes out every month now, right? If you read them you learn more and more. So I am a dramatist, not a journalist; I’m not a documentarian. People don’t understand that. So they don’t understand that dramatist takes time. You have to find the patterns. If I had done the war on terror movie in 2004 I would be way off base; I’d probably be ashamed of myself right now. I can look at this film straight in the eye and say, this one is what it is, it speaks for itself. I made it that way to honor these men. I’m proud of that. It’s an authentic piece of work. In the same way that Platoon was authentic for me because it was based on my own experiences in Vietnam and it was about something I knew. I was able then after that to move on to Born on the Fourth of July, which was before and after the war, too, you see, and that was based on someone else’s life. But you need a base to go into something like this. And it has to be a strong base. I would love to do something more about it, after Sept. 12, and will try. I’m not doing this lightly.
I think some people look to you because they trust you in that you’re not going to manufacture something, so I think in a way it’s a backhanded compliment.
Well, it is when they respect you, but when you get reviews like—I think it was one famous reviewer that said I had completely sold out, some crap like that, that this was the result of me being banged down by the studio system. It was just like this man never would have given me a good review anyway. This is so typical of so many reviewers. They slam you when you don’t and they slam you when you do. But they have no memory, no objections on themelves.
It must really help you define why you do this.
Exactly, it makes you resolve to do in spite of. You have to stick to your own guns. You have to follow your own heart, I guess. Obviously I had help, but I’ve believed in the people I’ve been working with. And each project for me is different, each style of the movie is different. Maybe in Chico people will have a chance to look back at some of the past films. Now they’re young students so maybe they don’t know the earliest films, but there is a different style in all of those films.
Speaking of Chico, why the college tour?
I’ve done this in the past. I like to stay in touch with kids, what they are thinking, saying. I like to get out of the cocoon of Los Angeles and hear what the world is thinking, so these are good lectures for me to do.
I recently read that you said that if the film Nixon were released today it would be a hit due to the parallels to our current administration. Do you think the Bush administration will be worthy of a film someday?
Oh wholly so, I think this is a great story. I think it’s unfortunately a tragic one. But again, I would hope that the person who does this would be responsible to history and try to know as much as possible. It’s so easy, as I know from my world trip, to make fun of Bush, to hate him, and it is. But to really look at what is happening is another issue. And I think these books that are coming out are certainly opening my eyes to what’s going on.
Sure. I heard your next film is about the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
No, that’s a development deal that was announced as a development deal … in other words in this business, as with any business, research and development is necessary. We write scripts and when the script is ready and the budget, the cast, it all has to come together. But it’s not a done thing yet.
Yeah, it is. A very good story, potentially.
You were in preproduction on a TWA 800 movie, is that correct?
TV series, yes. It was killed by the networks suddenly and suspiciously.
I hear there is a four hour version of Alexander coming out.
Three hours, 40 minutes. I’m very proud of it. It’s one of the highlights of my life. It was bugging me because I made two versions at the time and I was trying to make it for theatrical length which I would say is three hours or less. I feel happiest with this version because it’s about a complex man in a complex time and will allow a modern audience to see into the context of the ancient world. That takes time and I think I did it justice by going to the greater length of 3:40. It allows you to see the story more clearly.
When does it come out?