Oliver Stone: America's paranoid, eloquent conscience
The reason Oliver Stone has been an out-of-reach itch on the back of conservative America is that he is that truly great combination of things: Relentless, intelligent, fearless, confrontational and into hard drugs. Not to mention, of course, political conspiracies, societal trends, spiritual development and the honest examination of our times with a realistic distrust of the status quo.
Despite what the writeup above says, OS has actually not released a great deal of movies. Sure, after having made a buck or two with his films, he certainly has produced a fair amount of movies, but in this day and age, producing movies often amounts to little more than having the wallet and the clout to help somebody else by opening doors for them. OS has mastered almost every other aspect of the movie industry, and it was a natural progression to merge his past experience with his political and economic leverage.
OS has directed 15 films at the time of this writing. Not that many when held up next to Steven Spielberg's 44, or the 30 of Francis Ford Coppola. However, OS has written and directed a select array of films, each tackling important social and personal issues, and each with a distinctly dark, targeted agenda: to shift the rubbish and find the truth. A lot of the issues that have been addressed in his films have been issues he himself has come to face in his own life.
His experiences as a teacher and soldier in Vietnam infused his screenplays and direction in Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven and Earth. Stone was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his role in the war and Best Director Academy Awards for Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
After returning to the US from Vietnam, OS studied filmmaking under Martin Scorsese at NYU and the rawness of Scorsese's talent certainly had an impact on him. His screenplays for Midnight Express, Conan the Barbarian and Scarface all involved some level of violence and some level of harsh reality that many films of the same era were afraid to depict. While writing Scarface OS reportedly moved to France in order to kick his cocaine habit. In other incidents, scattered throughout his life, OS has been jailed in Mexico for possesion of marijuana, drunk driving and possession of hashish and has indulged in (and admitted to) snacking on piles of magic mushrooms.
Wall Street presented him with an opportunity to examine his father's world as a Stock Broker in New York and the cut throat ethics in this arena of greed. It is interesting to note that Wall Street was Michael Douglas's first proper outing as the bad guy persona, which he now plays relatively often. The DVD special features interview with Douglas is very frank and well worth watching. The entire movie was a father-son extravaganza with OS taking on his own father's world, Michael Douglas playing a character his father would have enjoyed and Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen paying father and son reliving their own experience when Martin Sheen had a heart attack whilst filming Apocalypse Now in The Philippines.
The Doors was a psychedelic trip through the world of the self obsessed rock stardom of Jim Morrison and featured some OS trademark cinematography and erratic editing, an art OS would take to its logical extreme with Natural Born Killers. The movie was a rather direct attack on fame itself and portrayed Jim Morrison as a combination of victim of his situation and a engineer of his own downfall. Apart from spectacluar cinematography and an amazing performance from Val Kilmer (Ian Astbury was initially considered for the role), the movie also features a host of appearances by members of The Doors and other people involved in Jim's life. Ray Manzarek refused to be a part of the film, and has called it a 'horrible depiction' of the real story.
NBK used the devices of mass media and tabloid junk journalism against itself to show how the media create the hype, yet try to distance themselves from the consequences and pass judgement on the morailty of what the subjects of 'fame' do. The outcry the movie caused was the perfect illustration of how the general public is not able to interpret the messages of modern media and decipher meaning from the deluge of information we are confronted with. Natural Born Killers is one of the finest pieces of modern movie making, IMHO. The excruciating detail of the production, the irreverant subject matter and the fine performaces by Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Downey Jr. and others make for a truly remarkable film.
OS is at his finest when he examines the political state of 20th Century America, and he has done that in style by taking on the memory of two of the most controversial presidents with JFK and Nixon. JFK was fearless in its assertion that the people of the USA were deceived on the highest level by the very people elected to protect and serve them and Nixon was fearless in its incisive portrayal of the flawed man who was a few steps from greatness but stumbled over his own ambition and the system he was part of. The nation (OK, Hollywood) tipped their hat to OS's politcal astuteness with his cameo in the movie Dave as the only person who realised that the president was an imposter. Cameos are standard fare in his movies, much like the great Alfred Hitchcock trademark, and OS likes to appear in tiny uncredited roles when he directs. He also likes to cameo his films within his films and often shows his own movies playing on TV sets in scenes.
He has certainly become a player in Hollywood and in recent years many films have been greenlighted because of his involvement as a producer, but I believe the real genius of OS has been most evident through the films he has written and directed. His films are an important element of Hollywood: beautfiully crafted works of art which make us question the society we live in and raise issues. Real issues, that he himself has had to face. He represents the anti-Schwarzenegger. There is no box office gloss, no action hero junk to patronise the audience and profit from them. Its important to have a powerful ally with the drive to make movies like this.