CSUS students turn to Stone

It wasn’t about promoting a film. It wasn’t about attracting a huge audience. Oliver Stone had other reasons for speaking at CSUS last Wednesday night.

Before a few hundred people in a ballroom that would’ve held a few hundred more, the 60-year-old moviemaking icon accepted a longstanding if scarcely advertised invitation to lecture at the school. He focused on the “tribal redeeming power” of film in a destructive world, blasting the Iraq War and bemoaning the failings of mainstream media. (Stone said he gets his news from friends.)

“I hope people will leave our movie theaters renewed and then feel sacred again,” he told the crowd.

Audience members mostly stayed quiet during Stone’s somber, almost melancholic half-hour talk, though the room rollicked through a subsequent question-and-answer period. One young man began asking Stone which single person from history he’d most like to spend an hour with, but another interrupted, shouting, “Ooh, pick me! Pick me!” and drawing laughter.

For an artist whose brash, probing historical works often ignite public controversy, the director of Platoon, JFK and World Trade Center, among others, seemed wistful and self-effacing. He spoke of fruitless teenage ambitions to study physics, of military service in Vietnam, and of being a struggling screenwriter in 1976—reading Tom Dardis’ book on Hollywood, Some Time in the Sun, and yearning for a little of it himself.

Stone also acknowledged his failures. A mention of his script for Brian De Palma’s Scarface prompted quick applause from a pair of enthusiasts, but Stone quieted them by recounting the film’s dismal reception. He admitted developing Born on the Fourth of July in the 1970s with Al Pacino only to see it financially unravel a week before shooting. (It was revived in 1989 with Tom Cruise.)

“It’s important to have flexibility,” Stone told the students. “Life throws many curves and hardballs and knuckleballs and whatnot. Think about not just film, but think about flexibility with imagination. I was lucky because I did find some kind of, as my father would say, legitimacy in this twilight world of ideas called movies.”

Later, Stone signed autographs for the mostly student crowd. Having studied at New York University’s film school (under Martin Scorsese), he admitted it had been a long time since his own student days. “That’s part of the reason I do these things,” Stone told SN&R. “Because I found trying to remember makes you humble.”

He reminisced about a local casting call for 1993’s Heaven and Earth, on account of Sacramento’s sizable Vietnamese population, and expressed mystification about the “superficial” controversies his films have provoked. Stone hoped his work would be better understood over time, but declared himself happy with his career. “I think I’ve done as much as I would expect to. ‘Some time in the sun.’ You know, I’ve had more than enough. That’s not to say I don’t have strong issues, but I feel very content.”