Oliver Stone is a most divisive figure. Yet no one can deny he is a filmmaking force who has created some of the most significant and groundbreaking works in film history. From Platoon to Born on the Fourth of July to JFK to Natural Born Killers to Alexander (yes, Alexander), Stone has dared to delve into controversial themes and use the cinematic lens and his fearless narrative gifts to provoke audiences towards dialogue, to ask—no, demand—those viewers rethink the way they accept what they are spoonfed.
In Stone’s films that are based on factual material (Salvador, JFK, Nixon, Alexander, W., Snowden), he always admits the liberties he takes but asks that we relinquish the US-centric way we are used to examining things and, instead, try and view history from the world perspective. This is especially apparent in his monumental Untold History of the United States (an essential 12-part doc that can be streamed on Showtime).
In addition, much like the master Billy Wilder held a mirror up to audiences in many of his films, forcing us to see ourselves for who we really are, Stone similarly shows us deeply flawed individuals who we may resemble and relate to. Also like Wilder, he often satirizes what he sees as the hypocrisy in the American media and the American way of life.
Born in New York City, Oliver Stone found his filmmaking calling after returing from Vietnam while attending New York University (a young Martin Scorsese was one of his mentor professors). His first break came when he penned the screenplay for Alan Parker’s Midnight Express (1978). Stone won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and would go on to write the scripts for Brian De Palma’s Scarface and Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon before making his first two films, Salvador and Platoon, both released in 1986. In March of 1987, Platoon won the Best Picture Oscar and Stone was awarded Best Director. (Stone was double-nominated for the screenplay award for Salvador and Platoon but lost to Woody Allen for Hannah and Her Sisters.)
In the late ‘80s, Stone helmed Wall Street, Talk Radio, and Born on the Fourth of July, which would bring him his second Best Director Oscar (in a year where the film was the front-runner for Best Picture but would suffer a backlash and lose to Driving Miss Daisy).
1991 would prove to be another monumental year for Stone with the releases of both The Doors and JFK, the latter a surprise box office smash that resulted in eight Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Picture and two wins (for Cinematography and Editing).
Stone’s post-JFK feature credits include Heaven & Earth, Natural Born Killers, Nixon (Screenplay Oscar-nomination), U-Turn, Any Given Sunday, Alexander, World Trade Center, W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Savages, and Snowden.
He also embarked on several controversial documentaries, interviewing leaders such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Vladimir Putin.
Thirty years after his masterpiece, JFK, the film that prompted Congress to declassify a half million documents (and there are still a slew to be declassified), Stone has crafted a follow-up documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, that validates many of the theories put forth in JFK—certainly the most important one—that Oswald could not have acted alone, if he even did any of the shooting. The events that followed the assassination show a massive cover-up as well. It’s a vital 2-hour film, currently streaming on Showtime.
It strikes me as more than interesting that Stone remains just as committed to seeking the truth about the Kennedy assassination as he was three decades ago, maybe more so. Is that the work of a conspiracy theorist or a truth seeker? Alas, many in the U.S. media continue to enjoy painting him as the former. It’s reminiscent of just how far everyone was willing to go to discredit Jim Garrison.
In a recent Rolling Stone takedown piece rooted in same-old-same-old U.S.-media falsehoods, Tim Weiner calls Stone a “tinfoil-hatted fabricator” and goes on the attack, even though he has nothing new to offer other than wanting to smear Stone. Weiner thinks the American people need to be manipulated by Russia to believe there was more than one gunman involved in the Kennedy assassination. Because Americans are that stupid. Weiner has been so steeped in his own old school manner of reporting he cannot even leave room for fresh non-US-media-based perspectives. He’s also conflating Stone’s (and most American’s) desire to get at the veracity of the Kennedy Assassination with the media misinformation going on now. It’s a gross distortion and the reason I bring it up is it’s a great example of how Stone’s reputation is constantly being chiseled at and distorted. Why? Because he continues to ask questions people don’t want asked. He must be anti-American. Or perhaps he’s the best kind of American, one that seeks the truth.
But first and foremost, Stone is a great filmmaker. Awards Daily had the pleasure of chatting with him about JFK Revisited, JFK, and his career.