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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who is William Oliver Stone?


Who is William Oliver Stone? The entertainment world knows him as Oliver Stone, he is an American film director and screenwriter. Stone came to prominence in the late 1980s and the early 1990s for directing a series of films about the Vietnam War, in which he had himself participated as an American infantry soldier. His work has earned him three Academy Awards, and continues to focus frequently on contemporary political and cultural issues, often controversially. His first Academy Award was for Best Adapted Screenplay for Midnight Express (1978). He subsequently won Academy Awards for Directing Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), both of which were centered on the Vietnam War.
A notable feature of Stone's directing style is the use of many different cameras and film formats, from VHS to 8 mm film to 70 mm film. He sometimes uses several formats in a single scene, as in Natural Born Killers (1994) and JFK (1991).


 

Early life and career

Stone was born September 15, 1946  in New York City, the son of Jacqueline (née Goddet) and Louis Stone, a stockbroker. He grew up affluently and lived in townhouses in Manhattan and Stamford, Connecticut. His father was Jewish and his mother a Roman Catholic of French birth, and Stone was raised an Episcopalian as a compromise (but has since converted to Buddhism). Stone attended Trinity School before his parents sent him away to attend The Hill School, an exclusive college-preparatory school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His mother was often absent and his father made a big impact on his life; father-son relationships were to feature heavily in Stone's films. His parents divorced when he was 15, due to his father's extramarital affairs with the wives of several family friends. Stone's father was also influential in obtaining jobs for his son, including work on a financial exchange in France, where Stone often spent his summer vacation with his maternal grandparents - a job that proved inspirational to Stone for his movie Wall Street. Stone eventually graduated from The HillSchool in 1964.
Stone was then admitted into Yale University, but left after one year. Stone had become inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Lord Jim as well as by Zorba the Greek and George Harrison's music to teach English at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam. Stone taught in Vietnam for six months after which he worked as a wiper on a United States Merchant Marine ship, travelling to Oregon and Mexico, before returning to Yale, where he dropped out a second time (in part due to working on his 1,400 page autobiographical novel A Child's Night Dream). In September 1967 he enlisted in the United States Army, requesting combat duty in Vietnam. He fought with the 25th Infantry Division, then with the First Cavalry, earning before he was discharged after a 15-month tour in 1968 a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster.While at Yale, Stone and friend Lloyd Kaufman worked on an early Troma Entertainment comedy The Battle of Love's Return (1971). Both also acted in the movie, Stone in a cameo role. Stone eventually graduated from film school at New York University (where he was mentored by director Martin Scorsese) in 1971. Stone was the recipient of the Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award at the 2007 Austin Film Festival.

 Mainstream success

He has made three films about VietnamPlatoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993). He has called these films a trilogy, though they each deal with different aspects of the war. Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone's experience in combat. Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic. Heaven & Earth is derived from the memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, the true story of Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese girl whose life is drastically affected by the war. During this same period, Stone directed Wall Street (1987), for which Michael Douglas received the Academy Award for Best Actor; Talk Radio (1988), and The Doors (1991), starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. Stone has won three Academy Awards. His first Oscar was for Best Adapted Screenplay for Midnight Express (1978). He won Academy Awards for Directing Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
For Year of the Dragon (1985) he received a Razzie nomination in the category 'Worst Screenplay'. Other films whose screenplays he participated in are Conan the Barbarian (1982), Scarface (1983), 8 Million Ways to Die (1986) and Evita (1996). In addition, he has written or taken part in the writing of every film he has directed, except for U Turn (1997). The very first film that he directed professionally was the obscure horror picture Seizure (1974).
I make my films like you're going to die if you miss the next minute. You better not go get popcorn.
–Oliver Stone

1996–present

Stone directed U Turn (1997), and Any Given Sunday (1999), a film about power struggles within and surrounding an American football team. In 2000, Stone, along with Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas appeared in Money Never Sleeps. The film is a direct-to-DVD documentary about making Wall Street, in which Stone directed and Sheen and Douglas starred. Stone also directed Alexander (2004), a biopic about Alexander the Great.
After Alexander, Stone went on to direct World Trade Center, which centered on two Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) cops during the September 11, 2001 attacks. The main undercurrent of the film is hope through times of trial. As of December 19, 2006, the worldwide box office for World Trade Center was $161,735,806. He is slated to direct Pinkville, a Vietnam war drama about the infamous killings set to star Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum. The film's plot was to focus on the investigation into the 1968 My Lai Massacre of Vietnamese civilians. It would have been Stone's fourth Vietnam film, after Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth. The film was to have been made for the newly reformed United Artists. However, United Artists halted its December 2007 production start because of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike. Stone's latest film is the George W. Bush biopic, titled W.. He indicated portraying the controversial President's childhood, relationship with his father, struggles with alcoholism, rediscovery of his Christian faith, his political career and presidency up through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The film is based on a screenplay by Stone and Stanley Weiser, who had co-written Wall Street (1987). Josh Brolin was cast in the role of Bush, James Cromwell as Bush Sr.  and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Welch Bush. Filming began on May 12, 2008 in Shreveport, Louisiana and wrapped in June. W. was released on October 17, 2008. He recently promoted his new film South of the Border at the Venice Film Festival; a documentary about Hugo Chavez.

 Controversy

Stone's films often have been criticized for promoting conspiracy theories and historical inaccuracies. JFK, for instance, centers on a heroic character who comes to believe that many high-level government officials had a hand in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1991, he showed the film to Congress on Capitol Hill, which helped lead to passage of the Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992. The Assassination Records Review Board (created by Congress to end the secrecy surrounding Kennedy's assassination) discussed the film, including Stone's observation at the end of the film, about the dangers inherent in government secrecy. Stone published an annotated version of the screenplay, in which he cites references for his claims, shortly after the film's release.
Stone's screenplay Midnight Express was criticized for portraying the Turkish people in an overly negative light. The original author, Billy Hayes, around whom the film is set, has spoken out against the film, protesting that he had many Turkish friends while in jail.
Stone's film The Doors received criticism from Ray Manzarek (keyboardist–bass player) during a question and answer session at Indiana University East (in Richmond, Indiana), in 1997. During the discussion, Manzarek stated that he sat down with Stone about The Doors and Jim Morrison for over 12 hours. Patricia Kennealy Morrison - a well known rock critic and author - was a consultant on the movie, in which she also has a cameo appearance, but she writes in her memoir Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison (Dutton, 1992) that Stone ignored everything she told him and proceeded with his own version of events. From the moment the movie was released, she blasted it as untruthful and inaccurate. Surviving members of the band, John Densmore and Robby Krieger, also cooperated with the filming of Doors, but distanced themselves from the work before the film's release.
Natural Born Killers  is filmed and edited in a frenzied style where animation, grainy black-and-white 8 mm film, color 35 mm film, and VHS are intercut and juxtaposed in a psychedelic montage of images showing not only the story's action, but also conveying the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The film was criticized by some for its apparent glorification of violence. Quentin Tarantino was credited with "Story By" on the final film. In 1997, a book about the making of the film, Killer Instinct, was written by Jane Hamsher and published by Broadway Books.
Also in 1997, Stone was one of 34 celebrities to sign an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which protested against the treatment of Scientologists in Germany and compared it to the Nazis' oppression of Jews in the 1930s. Other signatories included Dustin Hoffman and Goldie Hawn.
In 2003, Stone travelled to Cuba where he interviewed Fidel Castro for three days. The result was the documentary Comandante where Stone and Castro talk about politics, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Fidel's personal beliefs, the Cuban Revolution, important events from the past 50 years and Castro's views on the future of the revolution. The film was scheduled to air in May 2003 on HBO but was put on hold after an incident where hijackers threatened to kill passengers on a Cuban ferry if they were not taken to the United States. It has not been released in the United States and is only available on imported DVDs from Britain. Stone returned to Cuba and shot Looking for Fidel, a documentary dealing with conditions on the island and the relationship between Cuba and the United States. That film was aired on HBO in early 2004.
In 2010, Stone defended his decision not to interview Chavez's opponents during the filming of his documentary South of the Border. Stone indicated that people hear enough of those complaints already and that the movie is not intended to be a detailed examination of Chavez's record. He praised Chavez as a leader of a movement for "social transformation" in Latin American and expressed his deep admiration for him. Stone also criticized the administration of United States President Barack Obama for not doing anything to improve U.S. relations with Chavez or his Latin American allies. The documentary was criticized by many Venezuelan activists. Former Chacao mayor Leopoldo Lopez challenged Stone's assertion that "most peoples' lives in this country have improved under Chavez," writing that "if you are among the millions living in barrios, you no longer trust that you will be protected, that services will be delivered, that your lights will stay on or that you will have access to clean water."

 Drug use

Stone loosely based Scarface on his own addiction to cocaine which he had to kick while writing the screenplay. On the DVD of Natural Born Killers: The Director's Cut, one of the producers, Jane Hamsher, recounts stories of taking psilocybin mushrooms with Stone and some of the cast and crew and almost getting pulled over by a police officer—a situation which Stone later wrote into the film. In 1999, Stone was arrested and pleaded guilty to "alcohol and drug charges." He was ordered into a rehabilitation program. He was arrested again on the night of May 27, 2005 in Los Angeles for possession of an undisclosed illegal drug.

Attempted meeting with FARC

In a January 2008 interview with The Observer, Stone expressed disgust for what he claims to be the ongoing U.S.-supported paramilitary violence in Colombia's "war on drugs." He accompanied Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president and third party negotiator with the Colombian guerilla group known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in the release of three hostages held for over six years, another episode in the humanitarian exchange affair.
The visit was part of his research for an upcoming film he will be directing which addresses the crisis. The FARC, designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, was described in a 2005 United Nations report as responsible for "grave" human rights violations, including "murders of protected persons, torture and hostage-taking¨ against ¨women, returnees, boys and girls, and ethnic groups." During The Observer interview, Stone did not condemn the FARC outright; "I do think that by the standards of Western civilization they go too far; they kidnap innocent people. On the other hand, they're fighting a desperate battle against highly financed, American-supported forces who have been terrorizing the countryside for years and kill most of the people. FARC is fighting back as best it can and grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. They're a peasant army; I see them as a Zapata-like army. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."
Stone made the comments shortly after returning from a trip to Colombia, where he was to have filmed footage of the expected release of three FARC hostages, including a young child named Emanuel. Despite the breakup of the international commission appointed to oversee the release, FARC ultimately released two of the hostages despite their refusal to identify the hostages' exact location. It was subsequently revealed that the FARC could not have released the child because they no longer held him. Instead the child had been placed in foster care and subsequently adopted by the Colombian welfare system (the ICBF) because of signs of child abuse. The purported hostage release had been a FARC ruse all along. Nevertheless, Stone blamed the Colombian government and the United States for the fiasco.

 Holocaust Remarks (2010)

In an interview with The Times newspaper that was published on July 25, 2010, Stone "downplayed" the Holocaust, and referenced the Jewish influence in the United States. The article, by reporter Camilla Long is not available online without a paid subscription to the newspaper, although British bloggers and other newspapers have printed excerpts.
During the interview, when Stone was asked why so much of an emphasis has been placed on the Holocaust, he replied:
The Jewish domination of the media. There’s a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has fucked up United States foreign policy for years.”
Stone made the following statements in January of 2010:
“Hitler is a monster. There is no question... He was a crazy psychopath. Hitler was a Frankenstein but there was also a Dr. Frankenstein. He is a product of his era......We can't judge people as only 'bad' or 'good.' [Hitler] is the product of a series of actions....It's cause and effect. People in America don't know the connection between WWI and WWII"

Criticism

Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Israel's Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister, said Stones' comments were "racist, antisemitic and made him sick." He also commented, "Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals."
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, in a brief statement said that "We are deeply offended. These are words of hate and a disgraceful evocation of anti-Semitism. Shame on Oliver Stone."
In response to Stones' stance on Hitler, Marvin Hier, directer of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said: "To talk about ‘placing Adolf Hitler in context’ is like placing cancer in context, instead of recognizing cancer for what it really is – a horrible disease, just as we must recognize Hitler as the ultimate expression of evil."
David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, said, "By invoking this grotesque, toxic stereotype, Oliver Stone has outed himself as an anti-Semite... For all of Stone’s progressive pretensions, his remark is no different from one of the drunken, Jew-hating rants of his fellow Hollywood celebrity, Mel Gibson.
Abraham H. Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director, criticized Stone's comments and said that Stone's "words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence."

Response

In response to criticism of his comments, Stone later apologized, stating that "In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret." He also stated that "Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry. The fact that the Holocaust is still a very important, vivid and current matter today is, in fact, a great credit to the very hard work of a broad coalition of people committed to the remembrance of this atrocity – and it was an atrocity."

 Other work

In 1993, Stone produced a mini series for ABC Television called Wild Palms. In a cameo, Stone appears on a television in the show discussing how the theories in his film JFK had been proven correct (the series took place in a hypothetical future, 2007). Wild Palms has developed a moderate cult following in the years since it aired, and has recently been released on DVD. That same year, he also spoofed himself in the comedy hit Dave, espousing a conspiracy theory about the President's replacement by a near-identical double. In 1997, Stone published A Child's Night Dream, a largely autobiographical novel first written in 1966-1967. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the work published, he "threw several sections of the manuscript into the East River one cold night, and, as if surgically removing the memory of the book from my mind, volunteered for Vietnam in 1967." Eventually, he dug out the remaining pages, rewrote the manuscript, and published it.
In 2003, Stone made two documentary films: Persona Non Grata, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Comandante, about Cuban President Fidel Castro. In 2004, he made a second documentary on Castro, titled Looking for Fidel. (See also Controversy, above.) Stone is directing a short film about the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where the games were held. He was recently granted permission by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make a documentary about him. Stone had been previously refused permission by the Iranian government when the President's media advisor, Mehdi Kalhor, denounced Stone as being part of the "Great Satan" of American culture, despite his opposition to the Bush administration. However, Ahmadinejad approved permission a month later, saying he had "no objections" provided the documentary was based on accurate facts. Stone is due to visit Tehran to negotiate the production of the film with Iranian officials, possibly the president himself.
In 2008, Stone was named the Artistic Director of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Asia.
In 2009, Stone completed a documentary about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the rise of progressive, leftist governments in Latin America. Stone, who is a supporter of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, hopes the film will get the Western world to rethink the Venezuelan president and socialist policies. Titled South of the Border, Chavez joined Stone for the premiere of the documentary at the Venice Film Festival in September 2009. The documentary features informal interviews by Stone with Chavez and six allied leftist presidents, from Bolivia's Evo Morales to Cuba's Raul Castro. Stone stated that he hopes the film will help people better understand a leader who is wrongly ridiculed "as a strongman, as a buffoon, as a clown." In May 2010, Stone began a Latin American tour to promote the film, with screenings planned in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The documentary was also being released in some cities in the United States and Europe in the summer. The movie was attacked in the New York Times by writer Larry Rohter, a review that prompted a scathing reply from Stone. The letter, which was sent to the New York Time and published on political blog Truthdig.com, addresses each of the “mistakes, misstatements and missing details” Rohter claims are present in South of the Border, as well as reveals what Stone calls Rohter's "animus and conflict of interest."

Future projects

The future of Pinkville remains currently unknown, though Stone is expected to return to the project, following the completion of W. In 2007, Stone was reported to have turned down an invitation to direct a sequel to Wall Street, but in April 2009, it was confirmed that he would in fact direct the Wall Street sequel. Michael Douglas will reprise his oscar-winning role as Gordon Gekko, while original star Charlie Sheen is rumored to make a cameo. Shia LaBeouf has also joined the cast. The sequel, named Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is set for release in 2010.
In early January 2010, it emerged that Stone is preparing a documentary series for American television titled Oliver Stone's Secret History of America, which will provide an unconventional account of some of the darkest parts of twentieth century history. Oliver hopes to put into context some of the most abhorrent figures of the last hundred years such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

 Personal life


Stone married three times, first to Najwa Sarkis, on May 22, 1971. They divorced in 1977. He then married Elizabeth Stone on June 6, 1981. They had two sons, Sean Christopher (b. December 29, 1984) and Michael Jack (b. October 13, 1991). Sean has appeared in some of Stone's films as a child. Stone and Elizabeth divorced in 1993. He is currently married to Sun-jung Jung from Korea, and the couple have a teenage daughter, Tara.

Filmography

 As director

Year Film Academy Award Nominations Academy Award Wins Golden Globe Nominations Golden Globe Wins BAFTA Nominations BAFTA Wins
1974 Seizure





1981 The Hand





1986 Salvador 2




Platoon 8 4 4 3 3 2
1987 Wall Street 1 1



1988 Talk Radio





1989 Born on the Fourth of July 8 2 5 4 2
1991 The Doors





JFK 8 2 4 1 2 2
1993 Heaven & Earth

1 1

1994 Natural Born Killers

1


1995 Nixon 4
1
1
1997 U Turn





1999 Any Given Sunday





2004 Alexander





2006 World Trade Center





2008 W.





2009 South of the Border





2010 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps





Total 31 9 16 9 8 4

 Other work

Bibliography

  • Hamburg, Eric. Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film. Hyperion Books. ISBN 0786881577
  • Riordan, James. Stone: The Biography. (1996)
  • Stone, Oliver. JFK: The Book of the Film. Applause Books. ISBN 1557831270
  • Salewicz, Chris. Oliver Stone: the making of his movies. Orion. ISBN 0 75281 820 1



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