Saturday, July 08, 2006

Oliver Stone and Me

If you had asked me in 1992 or 1993 to list my favorite movie directors, Oliver Stone would've been on a very short list. Of course, at that time, I was still watching JFK at least once a week. Now, I'm not here to debate the relative level of paranoia expressed by that film. Feel free to comment on that, by all means. That's just not my initial intent with this post.

Regardless of the politics of JFK, or the many liberties Stone might've taken with the "truth", it remains a landmark of film editing. The seamlessness with which we are taken from documentary footage to spot-on recreations of documentary footage to completely fictionalized scenes and back again in unpredictable order is incredible.

But, now, as I sit here in 2006, would Stone still be on my short list of favorite directors? That's what I was just pondering as I held Emily while she attempted to feed me the saltine cracker on which she was snacking. Yummy!

Here's his filmography, according to Wikipedia: Last Year in Viet Nam (1971, short), Seizure (also known as Queen of Evil, 1974), Mad Man of Martinique (1979, short), The Hand (1981), Salvador (1986), Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Talk Radio (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), Heaven & Earth (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994), Nixon (1995), U-Turn (1997), Any Given Sunday (1999), The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001, TV) (produced only), Persona Non Grata (2003), Comandante (2003), Alexander (2004), Looking for Fidel (2004), World Trade Center (2006) (post production).

First of all, I have not seen any of his short films from the '70s. Nor have I seen The Hand or Salvador, though I've at least heard good things about the latter. I must confess that, particularly with 20 years of perspective, I find Platoon highly overrated. In fact, it might be the most egregious example of Stone's tendency to make the good guys good, bad guys bad, and leave no shades of gray whatsoever.

Wall Street suffers somewhat from that as well, but I still enjoy it. I suppose I'm just a sucker for the world of high finance, especially '80s style (Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, etc.). I've been told that Talk Radio is among the least realistic depictions of a radio show ever filmed. However, I still enjoyed it. The thing is, though, that the film stars Eric Bogosian in an adaptation of the one-man play he co-wrote and in which he starred as well. This makes me wonder to what degree the whole package was kind of handed to Stone on a silver platter.

Born on the Fourth of July is one I should watch again. It's been a long time. My natural tendency at this moment is to lump it in with Platoon (see above). However, I'll withhold further comment until rewatching it. Then, there's The Doors, which is way more remarkable for Val Kilmer's dead-on depiction of the late Jim Morrison than for anything specifically attributable to Oliver Stone. Or, am I remembering incorrectly?

JFK is a masterpiece (see above). I've never seen Heaven & Earth, as I was too busy rewatching JFK on video to even note its release. I'm recalling Natural Born Killers as a complete f*cking mess, but it's been a loooong time. Plus, I'm sure my view is colored by the fact that I had jumped on the Quentin Tarantino bandwagon by then, and heard about the ugliness with him demanding to have his screenwriting credit removed from Stone's film.

Nixon has its faults, to be certain. I'd say the positive outweighs the negative. But, it still languishes as somewhat of a lesser cousin to JFK. Then, we have U Turn, which despite a stellar cast, is a fairly standard collection of plot twists. Any Given Sunday is among my least favorite sports movies ever. Hey, let's face it, sports movies almost never capture the true essence of the sport in question, and thus suffer as dramas and/or action movies. The vast majority of my favorite sports movies are comedies, with the two notable exceptions of Hoosiers and Remember The Titans. (Oh, and there's Hoop Dreams, but that's a documentary.) Not to be a pig, but I'd have rather seen Cameron Diaz go all sprawled-out-horny in front of the gargantuan bare cocks she virtually ignores during her locker room tirade. (Note to self: give serious consideration to deleting that last sentence.)

I have seen nothing of Oliver Stone's 2000s catalog. I meant to watch Alexander "on-demand", but missed the end date.

So, as the dust settles, I'm left with one of my all-time favorite films (JFK), another I really like (Wall Street), a couple I like OK but am not sure Stone is the key creative force behind (Talk Radio, The Doors), a couple I need to check out again (Born on the Fourth of July and Natural Born Killers), and several others that range from moderately good to complete shit.

I'm not sure Oliver Stone is exactly closing in on Stanley Kubrick's rear view mirror, so to speak. Love that JFK, though...


Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

I still love "Platoon," but it will never be in my Top Twenty. As far as the clear delination of good and evil, al-chis and stoners, I can live with it. This film is just like "Apocalypse Now" in that it was more allegorical instead of true to life, so bear that in mind when he paints with a broad brush.

"N.B.K." and "Wall Street" were commentaries on society at large and it strikes me odd, how conservatives cite "N.B.K." as being violent and excessive, but Gordon Gecko is invisible to them. Allow me to compare apples and oranges...I'm not condoning ultra-violence, I'm just saying that a monster doesn't have to have actually blood on his hands to be a monster.

Mickey and Mallory affected lives in the most brutal ways possible, but no one recognizied Gordon or the real-life versions of him as people that affected and ruined far more lives than the former.

"Talk Radio" may be based more on Boogasian's play than actual talk radio, yet the ending was all too real. A talk show host in Utah was killed and that, coupled with the idiocy of the medium is what fueled Eric to write it.

11:30 PM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

Also let me say that I liked "U-Turn" because I love noir and neo-noir. "Heaven and Earth" was visually brilliant, but Oliver doesn't seem to recognize a good story anymore.

The man does know how to shoot a film and get tremendous performances out of his cast.

11:32 PM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

Good comments from both of you. I saw the trailer for World Trade Center yesterday, and I have to admit I teared up. But will it be good?

Oliver Stone is hit or miss for me, and I think you state my reasons well, Haahnster. I've always enjoyed Natural Born Killers; maybe I'm a bit of a sicko? Great point, W-P, on the Micky & Mallory vs. Gordon Gekko conservative comparison.

6:19 AM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Oh, yeah, don't get me wrong. I'm not naive enough to think that the Ivan Boesky's and (now dearly departed) Ken Lay's of the world don't do *far* more damage. Even if the blood on their hands is figurative, it's still real.

As for the 100% evil villain thing in Platoon, allegory or not, it's too much for me. Shit, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet is among the most violent, psychotic, twisted, sadistic, misogynistic, chauvinistic, sick fucks in the history of film. Yet, in the "love letter...fucked forever" scene, when he's begging Jeffrey not to be "too good a neighbor" to Dorothy, he exhibits a vulnerability that adds more subtlety to his character than Tom Berenger's character in Platoon ever displays. Berenger plays the bad guy...I know, because he's got the scar on his face. Subtle.

I hope I didn't imply that NBK was too violent for me, merely by calling it a "total f*cking mess". Like I said, I want to see it again before saying much more.

I enjoyed U Turn just fine. But, I don't consider it groundbreaking or even a superior example of a pre-existing genre. It's an adequate to above-average genre film, populated with an excellent cast. No more, no less (in my opinion).

7:02 AM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

So, just to sum up, I still consider Oliver Stone a very talented director. However, he is capable of anything from sheer brilliance to utter horse manure.

Now, as for "favorite directors", I'll once again paraphrase Frank Booth as I address Oliver Stone, "You're off of the short list, fuck!"

7:17 AM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...


Excuse me for the "Gekko" misspell.


"Berenger plays the bad guy...I know, because he's got the scar on his face. Subtle."

Heh-heh-heh, you know, like "Moby Dick" or an old Disney pirate movie?

"I hope I didn't imply that NBK was too violent for me, merely by calling it a "total f*cking mess". Like I said, I want to see it again before saying much more."

No, I thought you meant that it was just that, "a total f*cking mess." For years, that was the movie that conservatives rallied around and I don't think it occurred to them that it was over the top for a reason.

I can't enjoy it a second time as much as I should, just like "Straw Dogs" and certain scenes in "A Clockwork Orange."

If there's one thing that I'm sure everybody can agree on regardless of where they're from or what they do, Stone is a wasted talent. Or at the very least, someone who will never reach his full potential.

5:18 PM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

I pretty much agree with your sum-up, but I must say you're far too kind to Natural Born Killers and Nixon, which are ham-handedly predetermined and self-satisfied. Yeah, yeah, society's violent, yes I know Nixon was paranoid. But a movie that doesn't even try to get inside its protagonist's mind is wasting our time.

I also have a particular beef with Looking for Fidel, the documentary Stone made for HBO interviewing Fidel Castro. Unlike Nixon, Castro is a fascinating and complicated figure as well as a monster, and in more capable hands the chance to interview him on camera would have been indispensable. But Stone was too timid or too credulous to challenge Castro in any significant way, and the movie basically plays like PR for the dictator... Also, he gets a lot of stuff wrong...

5:29 PM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

I agree that Stone is a wasted talent. I also agree that he gets a lot of stuff wrong. I'm not sure if his views are a result of what he misses, or if he misses things because of his views. He sure comes across poorly in that interview Rob linked in, though.

8:55 PM, July 09, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

Stone is twisted and Platoon was a landmark film back in '86. But it has not aged well.

I remember all the talk about how the Vietnam Vets wouldn't watch it because it was so realistic.

So I finally convinced my father, a career soldier and a Green Beret who did three tours in Vietnam to sit down and watch it with me.

He called bullshit. He said that the main thing was staying alive during the inane recon patrols that didn't do anything and for it to be depicted as anything as polarized as it was portrayed int he moive was just not true.

Surely there were cruel people who exploited the situation to get their jollies - but it was way too over the top.

He did like the running through the jungle scenes as they did remind him of running so far and so fast that the entire world was a blur.

Adrenaline apparently makes everything better.

So I say that Oliver was a populist director who loved publicity and is not a great director.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

9:14 AM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger JM said...

I am going to keep away from a long winded rant here but Stone is my least favrotie director ever. The man has taken worthwhile topics and instead of focusing on the topics themself (Which are generally edgy anyway) he tries to add 10 more bullshit layers to them. He takes real topics and sometimes even decent screenplays and turns them into jokes.

This has been his pattern for years and is just getting worse (see Alexander).

11:05 AM, July 10, 2006  

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