Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oliver Stone Laments Incisively, And With Humor

Oliver Stone last night during an interview on stage at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco. 
Omar P.L. Moore

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Thursday, April 28, 2011


"America loves war, America depends on war, America -- the military industrial -- needs it," Oliver Stone said last night during an onstage interview here as part of "An Evening With Oliver Stone", part of the 54th International Film Festival.  Mr. Stone, the illustrious director of more than two dozen films and documentaries (most recently last year's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and "South Of The Border") was in town in advance of Thursday night's San Francisco Film Society Awards Night at Bimbo's 365, where he will receive the Founder's Directing Award.

Last night Mr. Stone addressed a range of topics during an onstage interview with  film and arts critic David D'Arcy before a full-house at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

"This whole American dramatic experience of my lifetime has been a nightmare!  You're laughing but it's really hard," Mr. Stone acknowledged.  "I've kind of become observant, and you got to have a sense of humor.  You know, how much more can you take?  What's going to happen next?  Is it going to be that Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States?  I mean, suddenly you'd have reasons to move back to Vietnam!"

Mr. Stone, 64, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart-decorated Vietnam veteran, said he'd been far more intense and passionate in the past about the state of politics and the political climates throughout American history, specifically in the Nixon, Reagan and both Bush presidential administrations. 

For this student of world history, some of that fire returned last night.

Mr. Stone said he'd shot a documentary called "An Untold History Of The United States", which arrives in theaters in January.  The film covers 1900 through 2012 and will tackle in more probing ways some of the most notorious events and political figures of world history during that time period. 

Given the evolving political landscape in America what did the New York City-born director think of Richard Nixon, the U.S. president he chronicled in his 1995 film "Nixon", which starred Anthony Hopkins?

"Well I think Nixon was one of Satan's spawn, you know?  But by comparison to Bush Jr. he was a three-dimensional, seriously complicated man who had tremendous inner insecurities.  Bush Jr. is two-dimensional and a moron.  I don't know where our culture is going but our culture has degenerated.  These people couldn't have existed in the old days."

Mr. Stone sarcastically reflected as he repeated his query about today's American culture.

"I don't know where it's going.  It's going to be fun to watch as I get older.  Just go along for the ride," he said, as the audience laughed.

"I'm not a political filmmaker.  I'm a dramatist," said Mr. Stone, whose "JFK" film was met with a firestorm from the mainstream press when it was released in the U.S. in 1991.

"I really do believe there were some significant moments in our history . . . and it's really important to study what happened in that last year of [JFK's] administration towards significant advancements, towards a new policy, a new foreign policy.  And after those two debacles in Cuba [JFK] really had tremendous mistrust of the military system.  But he was smart enough to know that he had to get re-elected.  He was hostile, extremely hostile to the generals.  He saw Vietnam coming . . . he was making strong moves to the Soviet Union.  And he was making moves in Cuba, as well as all over the world."

Mr. Stone noted that "[JFK's] assassination is a tremendous setback to the cause of peace."

The director quickly added, "and thank God for (Mikhail) Gorbachev 20 years later, because Gorbachev was probably a hero, he was an American hero who we don't even recognize . . . without Gorbachev the world would also have -- I don't know where we'd be now.  But we squandered that opportunity."

Oliver Stone responding and listening to questions last night in San Francisco.  Omar P.L. Moore

Since that movie in 1991 I've had more letters, more files, more people writing me, and talking to me (about John F. Kennedy, the man, the film and the circumstances surrounding his assassination.)  I feel like I can't live that time right now, I've got to go on to something else."

Mr. Stone gave a couple of book recommendations: David Talbot's, Brothers, about JFK and Robert Kennedy.  And, Mr. Stone said, "James Douglass wrote an incredible book called JFK And the Unspeakable.  You must read it, because he sums it all up beautifully." 

The director seemed to express a measure of unhappiness with President Obama, whom Mr. Stone supported in 2008, saying that "Obama's playing to the media.  That's who he cares about.  He doesn't have to worry about the left because he knows he's got their vote.  But the minute he steps out of line with the media . . . it will be all over for him.  He'll be finished.  He may get re-elected and do some things in his second term, I don't know.  But the media's who he plays to."

Much of Mr. Stone's anger was aimed at the Reagan administration.  He mentioned that the administration was chiefly responsible for the updates about monies the 500 richest people in the country are.  "So much of this country is about money.  All these lists about who the richest people are.  All this shit started with the Reagan era."

Asked when he'd make a comedy, the two-time Oscar-winning best director ("Platoon", "Born On The Fourth Of July") quickly pointed out that he already had.  "There's definitely comedic elements in 'Natural Born Killers'.  "U-Turn" has some moments, so does 'Any Given Sunday'.  Certainly the George Bush 'W.' film does."

The director, who has done two documentaries on Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro, said that former First Lady Nancy Reagan had loved Mr. Stone's "W." and "couldn't stand Bush Jr. or the Bush family, for that matter."

Mr. Stone, who said the U.S. press and the South American press hadn't covered the politics in South America accurately for at least 15 years, admitted that he was "very naive" about the mainstream media, whom he acknowledged had given him a beating over the years. 

"It's been a challenge.  I don't want to be bitter because I think there are many good journalists who are really trying . . . but the editor system I think is really hard to get through.  The corporations own so much of the media.  It's such a big, important pie . . . the progressive movement has never been a financially-oriented one . . . "

Noting that there were journalists who had integrity, Mr. Stone mentioned that "we have to keep supporting them." 

Oliver Stone, who was born into an affluent family, said he was working on his new feature film "Savages", set to start production in July.  Among the film's stars will be Blake Lively ("The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee") and Aaron Johnson ("Kick-Ass").  "Savages" is "a fun, but dangerous [and] wry" movie set in Southern California amidst the drug culture, "with a Mexican drug cartel coming to visit," remarked Mr. Stone.

Mr. Stone noted that a new version of his 2004 epic drama "Alexander", starring Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie, would be screened in June at Lincoln Center in New York City. 

"I worked very hard on it but I failed in the original 2004 attempt because I --  frankly I accepted it at the time -- but I rushed the movie to make the marketing date of November 2004.  And it had to be under two hours, fifty-five (minutes).  The movie was two forty-something.  And it just, you can't cut that movie up.  So I went back, and over a period of two years I did a three hour-and-43-minute version that actually allows the movie to breathe and be what it is."

"Alexander" will be shown as a road show version with an intermission.  The new director's cut is available on Blu-Ray but Mr. Stone advised that "you should see it on the big screen."

An audience member asked Mr. Stone what he as a citizen could do to reignite passion and awareness in the world.

Mr. Stone replied, "what you're doing.  You're awake, you're alive.  You're asking that question.  That's all you can do.  You can only deal with yourself first and then we can work out our collective processes.  Some do it with computers, some do with it journalism.

"All you do is what you're doing.  And there's not one single easy answer."

As the young questioner returned to his seat, Mr. Stone said, "you should run for president."

Read this story at the San Francisco Indie Movie Examiner page (with slideshow)

Oliver Stone on the red carpet prior to his onstage Q&A last night in San Francisco.  Omar P.L. Moore/

COPYRIGHT 2011.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW

"movie reviews" via popcornreel in Google Reader