Oliver Stone: Less Crazy After All These Years

"Oliver Stone"
"Oliver Stone"
 Kurt Iswarienko

Yes, Oliver Stone will tell you about losing his virginity to a call girl, smoking grass, doing ecstasy and everything about his colorful life in between. But nowadays, Savages' controversial director is mellower, happier and has nothing to hide: "I'm not a Prozac person anymore."

Platoon won oscars for best picture and director. Stone also would receive an Academy Award for directing 1989’s Fourth of July, giving him three statuettes. (He has received 11 nominations in all.) Those films, along with Wall Street (1987) and JFK (1991), put him firmly in the pantheon of America’s greatest living directors — a standing that somewhat declined in the years following Natural Born Killers (1994) and was damaged in the 2000s with the critical drubbing of W and, especially, Alexander.

“Alexander is as close to me as any movie I’ve ever made because you’ll see my dad and mom there,” he says of the picture, which stars Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great. “There’s a fever to it. Alexander was true to the way I see things: the mother on the edge of incest, the mother’s hatred of the father. But it took me three years to solve that movie [in the editing], and I suffered greatly. I mean, I lost my reputation.”

Now, his colleagues say, his reputation will return with Savages. Certainly, the talent behind it is in full flow when he invites me to watch him at work on the sound mix. In a large, dark screening room at Todd-AO’s Los Angeles facility, he pores over a few minutes with a half-dozen longtime aides, chopping, changing, choosing one piece of music then replacing it with another, even in these final days of postproduction — a process similar to his filmmaking where he’s constantly rewriting and editing even as he shoots. The film moves at a frenetic pace, layering in black and white and color, mixing quick cuts and long takes, creating an almost impossibly rich texture that somehow never loses its grip on the narrative. It gives the impression of a creator at the height of his powers.

“I’ve done four films with Oliver, and he is very intense and concentrated,” says Borman. “He shoots all day, then instead of going home, he goes to the editing room and rewrites. He’s always thinking and rethinking.”

Despite that, following JFK Stone entered a more fallow period at the box office, especially with the colossal flop of his third Vietnam-centric film, 1993’s Heaven & Earth, about a country girl who marries a G.I. (Tommy Lee Jones) and follows him to America.

He’s had some critical and box-office hits since — including 2006’s World Trade Center and the 2010 Wall Street sequel — and a few disappointments, such as W, Nixon (1995) and U Turn (1997). And then there were the projects, like one centering on Martin Luther King Jr., that came close to being made, only to evaporate.

Stone took the 2007 collapse of Pinkville, about the My Lai massacre (its title refers to the Army’s name for a village thought to be communist), particularly hard.

Bruce Willis initially was attached to star, then withdrew. Late in the game, “I got Nic Cage to step in,” says Stone. “We had whole villages built in Thailand, but the hedge fund and (united Artists’) Paula Wagner pulled out. They got scared; they were worried shitless about the Iraq War.” He pauses. “They take a lot of blood out of you, the Pinkvilles and the Kings. That hurts, the stuff that doesn’t get made.”

Many artists would be crushed by such defeats, but not Stone, who has even invested his own money in an upcoming documentary series (see sidebar).
“It’s a cruel, cruel world,” he reflects with a momentary sadness. “You can’t avoid the coldness and the cruelty of it. I was born warm and couldn’t handle that. But now I’m older; I realize it’s nature. I want to find the beauty in it. If I can make poetry, it makes it all tolerable.”

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