Rider students, faculty and alumni were able to gain insight into the directorial experiences that Academy Award-winner Oliver Stone has gathered in his successful 40-year filmmaking career during his appearance on Nov. 2, following a daylong conference on his films.
In the interview-style discussion in the Bart Luedeke Center led by Dr. Cynthia Lucia, director of the film and media studies program, and Gary Crowdus, founder and editor of Cineaste magazine, Stone discussed the artistic and content-based decisions made in a variety of his films. In keeping with the timely nature of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the majority of the talk centered on his JFK film that has — since its release in 1991 — earned Stone a reputation as a “conspiracy nut” among critics.
Stone admits that this label is something that has plagued him for the past 22 years.
“Before I made JFK, I had made two movies that were well received — Salvador and Platoon,” he said. “But after JFK, I passed a watershed. It was vilifying and humiliating to be called out in that way. My reputation — being the guy who did that — it’s a bore being dragged back into that. Labels are very destructive to the concept of what we’re trying to do as filmmakers.”
In terms of the technical decisions made in the production of JFK, Stone discussed some of the difficulties of dealing with a script that contained multiple flashbacks and re-enactments.
“Originally, the script was so complex that it was unfinanceable and I couldn’t give that to Warner Brothers,” he said. “Essentially we kept the strategy, but I removed a lot of the visual information that we shot for the film. We go from one story to another, and part of the reason I cast it with known faces for the lead roles was to make it easier for the audience to move from one face to another. It’s nice to have movie-known faces that are a marker for each character.”
Stone reinforced the idea of the film as a drama, not a documentary.
“We had to do things to make it work, so we had a double for Kennedy in the car. and in the autopsy scene we were using real shots of J.F.K., as well as using our body double. We were using documentary footage and weaving in re-enactments. It was the strategy we chose and it’s largely subjective, but it’s instinctive and it comes a lot from the editing room.”
During the audience Q&A, Stone discussed his personal opinions on the assassination.
“JFK was a story about motive,” he said. “Everyone wants the ‘who,’ and I think we can make some very intelligent speculation about it. I have, frankly, in private conversation with very interested Washington insiders. And nobody said, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous.’ They know it’s a possibility.”
He also expressed his stance on Kennedy’s autopsy, calling it a “sham.”
Lucia was impressed not only with Stone’s relaxed and genuine interactions with the audience, but also by his desire to continue researching the subjects that he has covered in his films.
“Mr. Stone is a very intelligent, well-read person, in addition to being a fine film artist,” Lucia said. “He deeply delves into research when producing his films, and I think that aspect of his work as a filmmaker truly was evident in his responses. In fact, later in the evening he said to a few of us that he becomes increasingly curious about the world as he grows older — something that shows when he speaks about his work.”
Stone also opened up about his experiences in the Vietnam War and how they influenced his artistic choices in his films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
He spoke candidly about the role of drugs and music in the lives of soldiers during Vietnam, explaining that tunes from various Motown artists helped calm him and others down after a tense, stressful situation “especially when combined with LSD.”
Other questions during the Q&A ranged from his choices in musical concepts and camera angles to auditioning and casting methods.
“Mr. Stone was as curious and interested in the people he was speaking with as they were in him,” Lucia said. “This is the mark of a truly curious, magnanimous human being.”
Printed in the 11/6/13 edition.