Helping kick off the first weekend of Vivid Ideas today was one of the biggest names to ever grace the event – iconic director Oliver Stone, who spoke with Margaret Pomeranz in front of a sold out crowd at Sydney’s City Recital Hall as part of the event’s “Game-Changers” series that also includes Shepard Farey on June 17th and Jonah Peretti, who spoke in the same venue earlier in the afternoon.
Across an hour and a half, the pair reflected on Stone’s illustrious career in something akin to an episode of Inside The Actors Studio. While Pomeranz didn’t ask Stone of his favourite swear word, there were plenty of insights exchanged along the way, and Stone spent a lot of the interview and the following audience Q&A talking about American history. Here’s seventeen things we learned on that journey:
1. Where did his creativity start? His father would give him a quarter to “write a theme”, he didn’t like writing but he liked he money, so he could buy comic books. His father wrote poetry and plays. Eventually he started writing a novel, as early as 12 (he didn’t finish that one though). At 19 he wrote his first novel, A Child’s Night Dream, about himself.
2. “George W. Bush was in my class at University, he was a C student… that’s no revelation” – he used the famous saying “fortunes favours the meek”. “He never had or rose to a destiny.”
3. He speaks fluent French, as his mother was French. Margaret Pomeranz seemed confused as to why she once saw him speaking French at a bar during the Venice Film Festival. Stone offered little clarification.
4. Martin Scorsese was one of his teachers.” He would convey the forgotten American filmmakers to us… The 1930s was the best era of filmmaking, people doing things for the first time. Now you can’t make a movie with heart, because people think they’ve seen the movie a thousand times, everything is categorised – I hate that categorisation.”
5. Stone commented on the divisiveness of his work, “Certain types of people just don’t like my movies, but it’s taken me a few years to work out who.”
6. The first two films he director were horror, The Hand and Seizure, he went on to more “aspiring heroes” in what were his first successful films Salvador and Platoon in 1986. “You have to be a sadist to be a horror film director. It’s an artform. I never succeeded, I don’t like horror films, I get scared.”
7. What keeps him going? His vigour, inspired by the filmmakers of the 1930s, and his anger, as “there’s great creativity in there”.
8. On the Wall Street follow up, he never wanted to make a sequel, Fox wanted to. But “Gecko had become the banks, which following the 2008 crash became a story worth telling. There was a crisis. Every movie I’ve made has been motivated by a deep desire to tell the story of a crisis.” The current crisis? The war in the Middle East, led by the United States, which Stone calls “a new form of Neo-Imperialism.”
9. “I love going into characters you don’t particularly like and taking it from there,” comparing himself to Shakespeare in that approach. “I’d have a beer with George W, and so you can show empathy, but you wouldn’t want him to be President.”
10. Something he’s learned? “You can’t defend yourself! The minute you stand up, it gets spun another way… But I never backed away from a subject because it was “too hot”. JFK only became a hot topic again after the movie came out.”
11. Natural Born Killers had some 3000 cuts. “The film came out of anger”, in 1993. “Our country was going into the gutter, focusing on murders,” like OJ Simpson, “instead of what really matters, what the country is doing.” He went on to say that “Saying America is exceptional is abhorrent. When have interventions work?” Indeed, Stone’s anger finds its way into many of his films.
12. Is he fighting for his country through his films? Well he thinks “It’s a long lost battle now”, but interestingly quoted Putin saying Putin told him that “you can never give up on fighting for peace”. We can expect to hear more of his interviews with Putin in The Putin Interviews, his current project.
13. Considers the 12 part series, The Untold Story of the United States one of his biggest efforts and asked the audience to “please watch it”. Walking out of the talk, which talked about American history (modern and otherwise) quite extensively, with Stone reminding the crowd that “history is a story”, and that “historians are no greater than a dramatist, and dramatists can do the work of a historian”, you get the feeling this is the project he’s most proud of as it stands.
14. He think he’s “covered 9/11” to death, so don’t expect another film about it. He took some time to talk about 9/11 as the excuse for war, history repeating itself with the Cold War, “I was so against Bush’s response at the time. I remember fighting with Michael Caine about it at the time.”
15. “I thought John William’s Nixon score was too sober at the time, and was a bit pissed off about it. We didn’t work together again. But I like the score more now.”
16. Stone remembered when Gary Oldman showed up for a scene “completely fucking intoxicated”, which showed him the dangers of improvisation.
17. And finally, the Director praised the work of Australia’s Richard Flanagan, who he had lunch with yesterday, at one point wanted to make a film about The Narrow Road to the Deep North, “it’s a searing book, he’s a beautiful writer.”
Oliver Stone took part in Sydney’s Vivid Ideas on 28th May 2017, in his only appearance at the festival. To find out who else will be appearing at the event, and to get your hands on tickets, head to the official Vivid Ideas website.