I first met Oliver Stone in the 80’s, in the midst of the worst period of his life (and yet, the best). I had just moved to the Italian film community in Wilmington, North Carolina, from Italy, during the Dino De Laurentiis years, and was working on the set of Year of The Dragon. Oliver was not yet Mr. Stone then, but a young, coked-up-&-LSD using- Purple-Hearted, Vietnam-Vet hero who, besides winning the ‘78 Oscar for best screenplay for Midnight Express, was writing like crazy as a screenwriter-for-hire: Conan the Barbarian, Scarface, Platoon, Salvador, 8 Million Ways to Die, Year of The Dragon, Talk Radio and the acclaimed Born on the Fourth Of July.
Now, almost 30 years later, we meet again and besides being a little older, a lot more famous and rich, I am happy to tell you nothing has changed for Oliver, both in terms of truth, passion and politics. A perfectly manicured (well, he wishes) Tom-Selleck-80’s-moustache is the only visible difference from then.
“Still standing. Wasn’t it Nietzsche who said, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger?’ That’s why I still fight for what I believe in, man.”
Mr. Stone will righteously go down into the history books as one of the most legendary and controversial American directors, someone who brought politics into the cinematic arena and someone who, without a doubt, always speaks his mind, regardless of the consequences.
“That’s exactly what happened with Comandante, the documentary I made on Fidel Castro. Not only was it not released in the US, but it was also censored. I love documentaries; they allow me to be in close contact with reality, with real people and the real world. Let’s put it this way, I make movies with my right hand and social and informative docs with my left one, because I want to teach my kids and the new generations how not to be trapped by the system. I was never scared and I don’t get easily intimidated by the negative feedback often linked to my movies. I honestly don’t give a shit. When I did Conan they told me I was a neo-nazi-fascist, with Salvador, they accused me of being anti-American, and with JFK I was accused of twisting the truth, being a communist. I risked a nervous breakdown just to be able to produce movies.”
Three Academy Awards and countless international prizes and acknowledgments later, Oliver Stone hasn’t lost his passion, he has not lost that visceral and personal style that creates a genre, his own genre: The Oliver Stone movies.
“I’ve always been an outsider but, at the same time, I always wanted to be a director and to be part of the system. I was writing Born on the Fourth of July when I was told by the studio that they would never make a political movie. So, they offered me to direct The Hand, a shitty horror film, just to make money. I accepted and it turned out to be a complete flop. That made me understand a very important thing: do not give up on your passions, never. It was a depressing time of my life. The studios just wanted to produce copies of Star Wars and politics was absolutely off limits. Then one day, I watched Warren Beatty’s Reds and I was a believer again; it was still possible to make smart movies. That’s why I fought to make Platoon. Platoon is important because, though being based on my personal history and experience, it was able to show the real conflict, and it was very well received by those who, like me, suffered in Vietnam. This is also the reason I directed commercials for MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org, because I wanted our guys, our soldiers to come back home from Iraq & Afghanistan. As a veteran I still have something to say against a war that is just plain wrong.”
At this point, a question comes to mind: Why is it so important to watch your movies, especially now?
“Before being a director, I am a citizen and I have rights, most of all, the right of FREE PRESS, that’s why I choose to make certain kinds of movies. Because mass media in North America and Europe is full of shit! They tell lies, misinformation about what happens in the world. This is the big issue. They are owned by corporations and rich families. There is no truth in the media, you can only find truth in magazine like this one, because I can tell you don’t have an agenda”.
What should we do next, what do you think we can do as citizens?
“Do not pay taxes to this fucking empire!” – he says laughing humorously - “Because the bankers, the Wall Street crowd will never learn. They don’t care; they will make money and take us to the grave. Climate change will force people to deal with this in a new radical way. The planet has to die before WE can change our situation. What is volunteering today, tomorrow will be forced. But Karma exists, so…”
THIS & THAT ON OLIVER WILLIAM STONE
Born: 1946. New York
Roots: Of affluent upbringing, he was accustomed to nannies, wealth and trips to France to visit his grandparents. As a kid, wrote and directed puppet shows. First book – on his childhood – at the age of 9. Went to elite all-boys boarding school, which was responsible for not letting him watch television and for giving him the rigid discipline needed to write from the heart. Tried to be a novelist, but failed. He once wrote 150 pages in a single day
Badge of Honor: 3 Oscars, 5 Golden Globes, 2 Independent Spirit Awards, 1 Venice Film Festival. Directors & Writers Guild of America Award; Born on the Fourth of July; Doors; JFK; Midnight Express; Natural Born Killers; Malcom X, Platoon; Salvador; Scarface; Wall Street 1&2; W.
Kudos: Stone is the emotional band-aid of his generation. Tackled every controversy that afflicted America: drug trafficking, Vietnam denial, economic greed, pornography, politics, violence, hope, 9/11, focusing on human interest and historical subjects.
Life takes you to…: Yale University, teacher in Saigon, Merchant Marines, Guadalajara Mexico, U.S. Army, Vietnam War soldier, Bronze Star & Purple Heart; LSD and rehab; NYU Film School; Scorsese, North Carolina, Hollywood.
Legacy: Oliver Stone’s legacy spans 40 years, beginning in the ’70s as a writer - Midnight Express, Conan the Barbarian, Scarface and Year of the Dragon – then as a filmmaker, who in the midst of his career, chose TRUTH over storytelling. He became the perfect ROMPICAZZO (rou-mpea-katzo), Italian lingo for “annoying ball breaker,” the 21st century social expert in bugging the crap out of the institutions in favor of the information of the masses. Like Saint Francis of Assisi – but choosing politics over animals – he was elected by his audience as one of the few directors able to deal with America’s most emotional crises – think of the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Nixon, 9/11 and last but not least, the Bush administration.
Wait for your turn: “After I wrote Midnight Express, Conan and Scarface, I just wanted to direct. I’d had two failures at that time, two horror movies. To do a good horror you have to be a natural born sadist, scare the shit out of the audience. For me, that period was the end of scary movies; I was born to be a political director.”
Conan The Barbarian: “I wrote Conan in four months. To write the script, I read each book there was, each comic book I could find. Robert E. Howard had a gift for darkness and death stories. Originally published in pulp magazines in the 1930′s. He was a very strange man, and died very young. In his novels there is no barrier between past & future, and in my script, I made the same journeys. John Milius said that my script was a “feverish dream under acid,” and this is exactly what the film should have been, not that thing”.
Salvador & Platoon: “I wrote Platoon and Salvador in 1976 and was turned down for 10 years straight. Then I met John Daly, an English producer, who read both scripts and asked me which one I wanted to do first. I picked Salvador because I was convinced Platoon was cursed; America didn’t know shit about the war, they loved The Green Berets and John Wayne. Then Michael Cimino – for whom I wrote The Year of the Dragon – convinced me to talk to Dino De Laurentiis, who didn’t keep his promise to produce Platoon while I was writing Conan. As an American, I have to thank the English for making those two movies – which were made illegally in Mexico. When you think you’ve made it, think again.”
Oliver is working on his next movie – Savages, based on a Don Winslow novel – starring Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch and Benicio Del Toro.