Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Oliver Stone

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Oliver Stone

Article excerpt

One of America's leading film-makers, Oliver Stone has won several Oscars for best film and best director. He has made many big hits, including Scarface (1983), platoon (1986), wall Street (1987) and JFK (1992). He follows political and social developments in the United States closely and describes them uncompromisingly. Here he talks about his commitment and the conditions under which film directors operate.

* You have made several films dealing with very sensitive matters. That is not easy. In the movie business, it isn't a question of wanting to do something then going and doing it, is it?

--No, it's never easy, because the studios want to make money. That's always the issue with movies like this: if you take on a large subject that's controversial, you're going to upset a certain group of people. That doesn't generally help the movie; people think it does, but many people stay away if there's controversy.

* That wasn't the case with Platoon, your film about the Vietnam War, was it?

--Platoon caught the national mood when it came out. President Reagan was about to invade Nicaragua, there was a feeling we were going to be drawn into another war, and there was a genuine curiosity, eighteen or twenty years after the event, about the Viet Nam war. People were getting tired of Reagan. The Oliver North trial had just happened in 1986, and opinion was beginning to turn against the militarization of the country. So I think the timing of the movie was just right.

* Was there an autobiographical element in the film?

--Platoon is based pretty much on my own experiences in Viet Nam. I was in the 25th Infantry and the 1st Cavalry. It was not straight autobiography, I fictionalized the story and ran characters together.

You don't see much when you're in combat, but I felt that every platoon that I was in was divided into the people who were more sensitive to the Vietnamese and the people who were insensitive to what we were doing in Viet Nam. There was a moral division inside each combat unit. I thought the same about America when I got home. It was very divided between what they called the hawks and the doves. Most people were neutral, but there were strong opinions on both sides. I fought with my father, with my family. I felt very alienated. I tried to deal with those feelings in a film I made about coming home, Born on the Fourth of July.

* We often hear from the American film industry that cinema is entertainment. When Hollywood turns to history, accuracy is hardly the main concern. How do you feel about this? Must entertainment come first?

--That's two different questions. I agree that movies are entertainment. A good movie has to grip you. Most people don't want to sit for two hours in the dark watching a documentary, so you have to introduce the element of tension, the thriller element. I think I've been able to deal with relatively serious subjects in my movies and make them intriguing, so that people want to see them. There are a million films made, in Europe or even in America, that, let's face it, nobody wants to see. They don't want to see life down on the farm if there's nothing to hook their attention. You know, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, the farmer washes his laundry... But if the farmer has a daughter and--aha!--she gets involved with some rich guy, then the complications start, that's when the audience gets interested.

* Let's look a little further into what you call the thriller element. Is it always simply a matter of good guy versus bad guy, or can it be more complicated than that?

--Good movies play with your idea of who the villain is. You think some character is the bad guy but he's not. The good guy turns out to be the villain. So movies are not that simplistic. In Alfred Hitchcock's films you rarely know who is going to do what to whom. In Vertigo, is the woman bad or good? In Notorious, is Cary Grant bad or good? …

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