OPENING IN THE U.S. AND CANADA
THIS FRIDAY: OLIVER STONE'S "W."
Filmmaker Oliver Stone and the American
presidents that three of his films have chronicled: John F. Kennedy, Richard M.
Nixon and the current president, George W. Bush, the focus of "W."
Oliver Stone And The Kingdom Of The
Cinematic American Presidents
Omar P.L. Moore/The
October 13, 2008
It's an occupation that filmmaker Oliver
Stone has been very familiar with: chronicler of American presidents. He
reintroduces these larger-than-life politicians to the American public in ways
either different or the same as those alive at the time of their political
travails remembered them. Whether it was John F. Kennedy in "JFK" (1991)
or Richard M. Nixon in "Nixon" (1995), Mr. Stone gained both grief and mileage
from the controversies that some insisted these two films -- particularly the
former -- sparked.
With Mr. Stone's latest U.S. presidential figure on the big screen, George W. Bush
however, there will be no historical distance from the audience that will
receive his new film "W." on Friday (in the U.S. and Canada).
That's because Mr. Bush currently occupies the White House as the sitting U.S.
president until twelve noon (U.S. Eastern Time) on January 20 of 2009.
With an overwhelming majority of Americans holding scorn and disdain for the
43rd president and suffering what some would term "Bush fatigue", Mr. Stone, in
what might be seen as a chance to jump the gun on alternately potentially kind historians
and public aversion to anything Bush, has worked feverishly over the last five
months to get "W." into movie theaters. Considering rejection of all
things Bush, the public reception to "W." may be lukewarm or it may be as some people are
literally counting down the weeks, hours and minutes until Mr. Bush leaves the
"W." happened by accident -- Mr. Stone, 62, was beginning production
late last year on "Pinkville",
based on the My Lai Massacre during the war in Vietnam and the letters and
memoirs of Lt. William Calley, when the film's financing fell from view, meaning that production had to
be shut down. "Pinkville" was to star Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum. The window of opportunity to make "W." happen was very
brief, and when screenwriter Stanley Weiser approached Mr. Stone with the chance
to make the film, Mr. Stone did not hesitate. "I felt if we didn't do
the Bush movie at that moment, it wouldn't be made, not for a long time," said
Mr. Stone in the film's production notes. (Mr. Weiser also co-wrote Mr.
Stone's "Wall Street" with the director.) Mr. Stone, a converted Buddhist
and an avid student of global political history knew that it was possible to get
this independent film out for release not only while George W. Bush was still in
office, but also before the critical presidential election in November.
Mr. Stone has a diversified background in life. Born and raised in New
York City in a relatively well-off family, Mr. Stone went to Yale University in
the early 1960's where he met none other than John Kerry and George W. Bush, the
latter of whom was in the freshman class with Mr. Stone. On HBO's Real
Time With Bill Maher recently, Mr. Stone recalled of both 2004 presidential
candidates from their Yale days: "They were not in the vanguard -- ironically,
you know, John Kerry was a big shot on campus when I got there. And he was
the man. And George was a "C" student so there's an irony to this whole
thing in history, I think."
While Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush went on to complete their four years at Yale, Mr.
Stone dropped out at the end of the first year to voluntarily fight for his
country in Vietnam, in the combat division of both the 25th Infantry Division
and the First Cavalry Division, for more than a year and a half.
(According to Wikipedia, the filmmaker dropped out of Yale twice.)
Mr. Stone's Oscar-winning 1986 film "Platoon" was essentially an
autobiographical account of Mr. Stone's tour of duty in Vietnam, for which he
earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Mr. Kerry, it should be pointed out, fought for the U.S. in Vietnam for several
years and earned three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Mr.
Bush did not fight in Vietnam.
Asked by Mr. Maher what would have happened to Mr. Bush had he fought in
Vietnam, Mr. Stone replied: "Well, frankly he probably would have died.
And so he's here and we've got to deal with it."
Josh Brolin, who portrays the 43rd president of the
United States in Mr. Stone's film. (Photo: Los Angeles Times)
When Mr. Stone returned from serving in Vietnam he went to film school at New
York University, from which he graduated in 1971. Mr. Stone, who has made
a trilogy of films about Vietnam ("Born On The Fourth Of July" and "Heaven And
Earth" were the other two films), may still try to make a fourth in "Pinkville",
if the money situation regarding the film changes.
On Mr. Maher's show, Mr. Stone talked about the methodology of "W.", while
making parallels between the war he fought in Vietnam and the ongoing war and
occupation in Iraq.
"The movie treats Bush the way he sees the situation. And Cheney and
Rumsfeld. It's their point of view. They speak for themselves.
I'm not giving you my view on Iraq in this. I'm only sad personally . . .
when [the Bush Administration] marched to Iraq the same way (as in Vietnam) ...
it was the same march, the same media drum and it's probably been the same
amount of time that we've been there now. You know, it's very deja vu."
Mr. Stone's speculation and conjecture in such films as his "JFK", which was
less about the nation's first Catholic president than it was about who
assassinated him, has earned him his share of detractors.
"W.", however doesn't invite any such speculation.
"You don't have to make it up, the guy speaks for himself," said Mr. Stone when
talking to Mr. Maher. "And Cheney comes across as Dr. No. And
Rumsfeld is a powerful figure. These are serious people, and frankly they
changed the world in a profound way in probably the next twenty to forty years,
is my opinion."
Mr. Stone and Mr. Weiser did a lot more research for "W." than one would expect,
combing through many books about George W. Bush, including J.H. Hatfield's
hard-to-find book Fortunate Son and numerous books by Bob Woodward.
"It's very hard to have found information on Mr. Bush's Administration. We
know his first act as a child -- as a younger man. We know his second act
as a solid governor, baseball owner. But his third act, the presidency --
those first, from 2001 to 2003 -- is clouded and veiled. It was Woodward.
It was Suskind. It was Risen. It was Corn. And these are the
people who penetrated -- there's about 10, 12 of them now -- who have gone in.
And these are heroes, these investigative journalists. We had no material
on that Administration. It was a secret. Bush is a secret.
People think they know George Bush but they don't. The guy has, is like, a
bit -- I hate to say -- but a bit like the Wizard Of Oz in the sense you don't
know who he is. Judy Garland's looking for him the whole time, and at the
end of the day -- what -- he's a small little guy behind the curtain . . . the
banality of evil," said Mr. Stone.
"This is a fascinating man -- and guilt free."
Despite Mr. Stone's outspoken political opinions and vigorous disagreements with
the policies of Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush, "W.", the director says, is not
influenced in anyway by Mr. Stone's personal opinions.
"It was not our intention to bring malice or judgment on George W. Bush and his
administration . . . The viewpoints and dialogue that we express in the film are
drawn from their known and documented viewpoints."
Mr. Stone said that a website documenting the references and Bushisms used
throughout "W." would hopefully be released in time for the film's opening on
"W." stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, James Cromwell,
Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd and
Noah Wylie. The film, released in the U.S. and Canada by Lionsgate,
arrives in theaters on Friday.
Past "W." stories:
"W." gets rolling, May
Clip from "W."
Spot for "W."
Photos from "W."
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