By Nicole Cortese
Academy Award recipient Oliver Stone, a world-renowned director, producer and screenwriter, will be the keynote speaker at Rider on Nov. 2 for a conference where scholars will be gathering to discuss topics based on his films.
Dr. Cynthia Lucia, director of the Film and Media Studies Program and a regular contributor to Cineaste magazine, said Stone’s work has affected American culture.
“I think he’s had a big impact that goes beyond entertainment,” Lucia said. “His films are of a cultural and political nature. His work consistently has a political impact that gives viewers a general way to think about the world, politicians and power structures.”
Stone is seen as a director who takes on historical subjects and often adopts controversial positions. After JFK was released, he received much criticism from the mainstream media on the topic.
“With JFK, Stone had a great impact on society,” Lucia said. “The government made available certain documents they were previously withholding. The public put pressure on the government to respond to issues the movie raised.”
Controversial is an understatement when describing the complexity of JFK. In the movie, Stone challenges the finding of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald alone assassinated President John F. Kennedy. The film clearly sides with Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney who prosecuted Clay Shaw for conspiring in the assassination.
In a Cineaste issue focused on the 1991 film, Christopher Sharrett wrote an article titled, “Debunking the Official History: The Conspiracy Theory in JFK,” in which he compared the real-life case to the way it was portrayed in the film.
“The radical aspect of the Stone/Garrison approach to the assassination is its insistence on the murder’s central political moment, something most contemporary JFK historians deny, to the point of suggesting that the assassination has no relation whatsoever to Kennedy’s life or administration,” Sharrett wrote.
He explains how Stone directly confronted accusations in the mainstream media and told the story the way he saw it. In the film, Stone mixed re-enactments of scenes with actual footage collected from the day of JFK’s assassination and combined the two into cinema; he received much criticism for this from the people who discredited Garrison. In an article titled, “Who Defines History? Oliver Stone’s Address to the National Press Club,” in the same issue of Cineaste, Stone directly confronted the naysayers.
“I have been accused by a number of people, some of them journalists, of a distortion of history,” Stone said. “And, if there is any common thread of attack running through the claims of those critics of JFK, it is a notion that somehow there is an accepted, settled, respected, carefully thought-out and researched body of history about the assassination of John F. Kennedy…using as my weapon the motion picture medium and taking as my target the impressionable young who will believe anything as long as it is visual.”
The practice of fighting fire with fire has not stopped Stone in his 40-year career. On Nov. 2, scholars will showcase their research and analyze the different aspects that go into a Stone film.
“Two scholars are from the United Kingdom, one is from Washington University in St. Louis, and another from SUNY Cobleskill. Three Rider professors will present their work, while six Rider professors will chair panels,” Lucia said. “This event is a great opportunity to exchange ideas with each other.”
Topics that will be addressed at the conference include, “JFK and Historical Intervention,” “Oliver Stone: Myth, Philosophy and Religion,” “The Aesthetics of Oliver Stone,” “War, the Presidency and Power,” “Oliver Stone and History,” “JFK: Media and Meaning,” and lastly the keynote event, during which Stone himself will speak about his work.
The event will take place at 4 p.m. in the Bart Ludeke Center Theater. Unlike many events at Rider, it is not open to the general public. It is open to the Rider community — students, faculty, staff, alumni and families.
“Mr. Stone has been very generous in coming to us, and he wants it to be an intimate college visit,” Lucia said. “At his wishes, we are trying to maintain that type of feel. Attendees can register in advance as there are only a limited number of seats.”