Art, authorship and activism

This book charts and analyses the work of Oliver Stone – arguably one of the foremost political filmmakers in Hollywood during the last thirty years. Drawing on previously unseen production files from Oliver Stone’s personal archives and hours of interviews both with Stone and a range of present and former associates within the industry, the book employs a thematic structure to explore Stone’s life and work in terms of war, politics, money, love and corporations. This allows the authors both to provide a synthesis of earlier and later film work as well as locate that work within Stone’s developing critique of government. The book explores the development of aesthetic changes in Stone’s filmmaking and locates those changes within ongoing academic debates about the relationship between film and history as well as wider debates about Hollywood and the film industry. All of this is explored with detailed reference to the films themselves and related to a set of wider concerns that Stone has sought to grapple with -the American Century, exceptionalism and the American Dream, global empire, government surveillance and corporate accountability. The book concludes with a perspective on Stone’s ‘brand’ as not just an auteur and commercially viable independent filmmaker but as an activist arguing for a very distinct kind of American exceptionalism that seeks a positive role for the US globally whilst eschewing military adventurism.

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wound of a rotten field in Vietnam.1 Oliver Stone penned these words, not as part of some reflective memoir of his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War, but immediately upon return from his first trip to Saigon in 1965 where, during a year away from his studies at Yale University, he had done nothing more dangerous than work as an English teacher in a Catholic school. US forces had begun arriving in Vietnam during that year as part of a dramatic escalation, although the ground war that would engulf American foreign policy for the next decade was not yet

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Introduction ‘Oliver Stone is still a mystery –​to me too.’1 ‘I don’t want to make a silly movie. I don’t want to make it for the wrong reasons. I have a storytelling sense and a sense of drama, and I want to continue.’2 Oliver Stone: the remaking of a maverick filmmaker To examine the welter of publications about writer-​director Oliver Stone over the last thirty years is to enter a netherworld where the divisions between fact and fiction, and truth and objectivity often blur, if not break down. Assessments of Stone populate the entire spectrum of writing

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little to say of significance, and Stone’s off-​screen reputation around Hollywood for indulging in drugs and women at this time probably did as much –​if not more –​to feed the negative assessments of his narrative.3 While the historical image of Stone as a womaniser presented in, for example, Jane Hamsher’s Killer Instinct (1987) and Eric Hamburg’s JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone and Me (2002), may have dissipated over the years, his escape from this straitjacketed personality trait has been harder to achieve. An interview in the Observer in 2010, for example, continued to

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will in Europe, Asia, much of the Middle East, and still much of Latin America. The recent revelations that the NSA’s and the UK’s surveillance programmes are linked is big news.1 Oliver Stone has been a fixture in the Hollywood landscape since his Oscar-​winning script for Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978). That high-​profile foothold gave him the opportunity to build slowly towards his ambition of capturing on film what he had lived through in Vietnam during 1967 and 1968. The young Yale man who had entered the army was a cerebral romantic in search of

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his guest on the show that day, and instead to re-​examine their assumptions about how history is made, how politics is portrayed, and how print media are the purveyors of a very particular process of recollection. The guest was Oliver Stone, and he was there to discuss his new release, JFK (1991). Centred on the 1969 trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw Th e ci nem a of Ol iver   S to ne 78 by Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison, the thrust of the movie was that Shaw and others had been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate President John F

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5 Corporations Introduction You never really know what goes on behind the scenes in corporations, but it was an abrupt cancellation with two, three weeks to go. The decision was made in hours, when I was out of the country. There was no consultation with me. I was simply informed it was cancelled, and it was dead in the water.1 In spring 2003, Home Box Office (HBO) abruptly jettisoned its planned and commissioned broadcast of Comandante, Oliver Stone’s documentary on Cuban President Fidel Castro. As outlined in Chapter 2, the news caused barely a murmur in the

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changed in rather complicated ways. Not only had they changed since the time of Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street in 1987, but they had renegotiated their relationship with institutions and the public in a dramatically short space of time: over the previous two-​and-​a-​half years. Therefore, Stone’s updating of arch protagonist Gordon Gekko’s exploits for the financially strapped twenty-​first century was a prescient cautionary tale and a morality fable of sorts; but it was also a vignette about Hollywood as an industry, as it gravitated increasingly towards box

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Interviews Stone on Stone Between 2010 and 2014 we interviewed Oliver Stone on a number of occasions, either personally or in correspondence by email. He was always ready to engage with us, quite literally. Stone thrives on the cut-​and-​thrust of debate about his films, about himself and perceptions of him that have adorned media outlets around the world throughout his career –​and, of course, about the state of America. What follows are transcripts from some of those interviews, without redaction. Stone is always at his most fascinating when a question leads

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presented in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1982), Brett Leonard’s Lawnmower Man (1992), James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). From Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957), through Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), to Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995), film has constructed a vision

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