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Wednesday August 30, 2000
3:00 - 3:30 p.m. EDT

Are there any questions about moviemaking, politics, or Vietnam that you'd like to ask Oliver Stone? Today is YOUR chance to interact with the famed and controversial writer/producer/director. He'll also be talking about "Oliver Stone's USA", a critique of his movies which includes essays by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., David Halberstam, Stephen Ambrose, and George McGovern, is edited by Robert Toplin, and to which Stone has contributed several essays of his own, emphasizing "JFK" and "Nixon".

Oliver Stone most recently directed "Any Given Sunday" with Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, and L.L. Cool J. His 1995 film, "Nixon," received four Academy Award nominations, for acting (in two categories), screenplay, and score. His 1991 film, "JFK," which re-ignited an intense national debate about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two. Stone has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, as screenwriter, producer and director, and has won three Oscars (for writing "Midnight Express," and as director of "Born on the Fourth of July" and "Platoon").

Stone has been a schoolteacher, a taxi driver, and a merchant sailor. He served in the U.S. Infantry in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, was wounded twice in battle and decorated with the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart. After returning from Vietnam he completed his undergraduate degree studies at New York University Film School.

Stone has directed "U-Turn" (‘97), "Nixon" (’95), "Natural Born Killers" (’94), "Heaven and Earth" (’93), "JFK" (’91), "The Doors" (’91), "Born on the Fourth of July" (’89), "Talk Radio" (’88), "Wall Street" (’87), "Platoon" (’86), "Salvador" (’86), "The Hand" (’81), and "Seizure" (’73).

He has written or co-written "Year of the Dragon," "Conan the Barbarian","Scarface," "Midnight Express", "Nixon," "Evita," "Natural Born Killers," "JFK," "The Doors," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Talk Radio," "Wall Street," "Salvador," "Seizure," "Heaven and Earth," "Platoon," and "The Hand".

Stone has also either executive produced, produced or co-produced the features "The Corruptor," "Gravesend" (presenter), "Savior," "Freeway," "Killer: A Journal of Murder," "The People Vs. Larry Flynt," "The New Age," "The Joy Luck Club," "South Central," "Zebrahead," "Iron Maze," "Blue Steel," "Reversal of Fortune." For television, Stone produced the documentary "Assassinated: The Last Days of Kennedy and King," the miniseries "Wild Palms" and "Indictment: The McMartin Trial," for which he received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Movie Made for Television.

Read more about and by Oliver Stone:

Lloyd Grove's profile of Stone
George Lardner, Jr.'s criticism of "JFK"
Stone's defenses of "JFK" on June 2 and December 24, 1991 in the Washington Post.
Politicians attack "Natural Born Killers".
Henry Kissinger's reaction to "Nixon".

You may submit your questions in advance or any time during the discussion.


washingtonpost.com: Hello, everyone. Be sure to come back on Thursday August 31 at 2:00 p.m. EDT to talk to former BBC journalist Anthony Summers about his new book, "The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon".

washingtonpost.com: Why do you think the Washington, D.C. establishment's reaction towards you is so negative?

Oliver Stone: Is it? I can't accept that everyone agrees. Certainly the Washington Post and Washington Times have been negative. I don't want to consider myself to be an enemy of the state. I've served my country proudly. I do my share. I create something from nothing. I consider myself to be a very decent American.

washingtonpost.com: During impeachment, some commentators theorized that the Republican pursuit of President Clinton was conservative revenge on those whom they perceived as carrying on the "decadent" values of the '60s. What do you think?

Oliver Stone: I can see that happening, considering Chris Matthews and George Will keep on denouncing the '60's, not that they know anything about it.

The '60s were complex. The early sixties were great because it was the last of the era of calm. In the mid-sixties I was in Vietnam, and the late sixties were crazy. There was a disbalancing in the system.

I believe that if Kennedy had been in office there would have been no Vietnam. Kennedy was a man of his time, but in '63 there was a sea change in his attitude. We forget the biggest thing that Kennedy did was his rapprochement with Kruschev. It was the beginning of the thaw in relations. The peace speech at American University was equal to Lincoln's oratory, in my opinion, and indicative of things to come.

Those who criticize the facts given to me by Fletcher Prouty always compare National Security Action Memorandum 273 to later memos; and in January 1964 the excalation mounted intensively. Eisenhower had men in Vietnam from the '50s on. We were very involved with the French and financed a great deal of that war. We were involved in Vietnam going back into the '40's. If you look in NSAM 263, Kennedy orders the removal of the first thousand troops and the withdrawal of all troops by 1964.

Baltimore, MD: Hey Oliver --

I read your screenplays with Biblical reverence, especially Scarface, Salvador & Platoon. Question: with Clinton in Colombia today to deliver the big drug war aid package, do you feel the need to revisit the issues of drugs and U.S. military intervention in upcoming films? It seems that a case of history being ignored & repeated is on the horizon.

Oliver Stone: Oh, God, I hope you're wrong. I think Scarface presaged this development -- the excesses of the drug war. I've been offered the Escobar story, but haven't done it because of a)Scarface, and b)it's not over. Ending up in a war in Columbia would be a mistake. In my opinion, drugs should be legalized and sold through pharamacies.

washingtonpost.com: Do you think that whether a political candidate's service (or non)in Vietnam should be a determining factor in whether he's fit to hold office?

Oliver Stone: It's a factor because if you're running for office you're running for the public good. Your military and educational and health records are very important. What Clinton didn't do, unfortunately, was support his position from 1968. I deplore the "chicken hawks" -- the men who've never gone to war who are willing to sacrifice the lives of others.

LA CA: In war films of late I see a dangerous precedent. It bothers me that there is a lot of flag waving going on. It's very scary. I'm also a Vietnam Veteran like you. To me there is nothing to be learned from war. Nothing at all. As a veteran of that war I think we have to keep the young boys from going anyway we can. I don't want to say to a young man be like me. That's the last thing I want to say to him. I'd say to him don't fight for your country, live for your country. I mean Miller at the Bridge in Ryan tells Ryan that he, Ryan, must live a good life for their sacrifice. I mean Robert Rodat has gone sacrifice crazy. He sprinkles it all over the plot. The way I look at it no one has to pass a test to live. If you are alive you're in. I would not lay a guilt trip on anyone for living. If someone got out of the bush in Vietnam, we'd love him like a mother. We did not resent him. He was blessed by god. He did not have to go home and do something special. We just wanted him to live to a ripe old age get drunk, party until he fell on his face. Just for the simple, beautiful act of being alive, you have passed all the tests you need to. Also, Martin(notice that Rodat likes "M"s for his leading characters)in "The Patriot" is shown to be weak. I don't think that not going to war is a position of weakness at all but of strength. Look at Martin Luther King and Gandi and Socrates, all are but a few examples of passive resistence. All of them changed the world for the better. They were very strong human beings. I don't think you are weak because you don't go to war, because you don't fight. Not fighting takes great courage. I wish I had been that brave. It is too easy, much too easy to take up a gun. I think you are strong if you resist taking up a gun. Once you've taken up a gun you can never go back. You can never get the blood off your hands. I would rather be killed than kill. It is our last duty as old men to dennonce war. I won't justify war in any way shape or form. I hate words like sacrifice. The word sickens me. That word is just a tool for the death machine. To seduce the young into carrying a gun. All's I did in Vietnam was hump the bush for a year. I recall that when I was there early on that I began to see men as liars overall in terms of war as the great adventure. As somehow proof of ones manhood. As the final proof that one is a man by blood letting. I knew this was all a lie the fist time I saw a man cut open from his head to his toe and his guts pouring out of him like so much soup. How can anyone justify the life of but one human being, much less thousands of them?

So, for the last thirty years I've seen a truth about war, in your films, and many others of the time. None of them I might add seem to show it actually as it was in living color. Overall, I think that films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Patriot" are for fools, for the unaware, and they are just there to fill up the recuriting rolls. Haven't we had more blood in the last century than in all of recorded history before us? What the hell do we have to be proud of? America is the most going to war country in the history of the globe. Still, the good thing about these films, the ones before Ryan, is that they all to a one seem to condemn war overall and that is good.

When I saw "Saving Private Ryan" I heard young boy-men yelp in manic glee at the most horrible parts and again I saw the same-thing again when I saw "The Patriot." To me we learned some great lessons in Vietnam one of them was humility and now we are regressing back to Nationalism. It looks like to me that we are ignoring our own history and all the pain it took us to learn from our mistakes.
I don't believe in censorship but I also don't want young boys and girls to be swept up in these new lies about war. They after all are the same old lies about war, they never change, you know fight for your country etc. I should know, I fell for them thirty plus years ago. I look at the Vietnam Genneration as the greatest one because it was the first one to stop guns without guns. No other generation did that. There is something so sweet about that. I was not even a part of my generation but rather a victim of it and still I'm proud that these people had the foresight that I did not have. If I had the insight they had I would not have caused suffering or suffered for the last thirty years for my sins in that war. What is your take on this?

Oliver Stone: You sum up so many of my feelings about sacrifice. I hated "The Patriot". It's a disgusting, simplistic take on war. Your letter says it all. There are times, though, when you have to defend yourself. In a sense, an unwatchable show like "Survivor" is the result of a peaceful society. Life is struggle and requires great effort on the part of individuals and collectives. Unfortunately peace leads to flabbiness and sensationalism. We have Stephen Ambrose, for example, who have never seen a day of war and yet never met a war he didn't like.

We're in good times, and everyone is watching Springer, WWF, and Survivor. Does anyone knows the shows are fake? I don't think so. The actors aren't very good and don't deserve a million dollars. We have a fake struggle today, a "Survivor" type struggle. In the '50s, we had television shows about values; we don't have that now.

New Haven, CT.: As a movie buff I've been disappointed by the batch of films released this year. There appears to be a never ending supply of what I'll call "teen" movies, apparently because kids spend a lot of money at the super plex's. Do you think there has been a kind of "dumbing down" in films and if so can we expect to see a revival of more sophisticated themes and characters in film in the near future?

Oliver Stone: I hope so. It's a very tough business. The marketing costs and the actors' salaries have gone up. I was lucky I was able to make "Nixon" in '95. There's been a considerable dumbing down since the Jim Carrey phenomenon. A good sign is that there's stil an older market out there. I don't give up hope, but the margins are slimmer.

Ridgefield, Connecticut: Oliver Stone: Your movies bring inspiring power and force to the medium--one reason I have started to make my own films! How do you approach the editing of your films, the flash cuts, grainy images, etc. (the shadow figure alone in the stands in Any Given Sunday)? I would love to know what you see in your mind as the story develops within. You must have your own screenplay version with all these images included? Yours, Marc Sessler

Oliver Stone: The shadowy ghosts were very much a part of the movie (the DVD that comes out of "Any Given Sunday" on Friday, September 1st is a director's cut, by the way). Jamie Foxx at the end of the movie makes a very heroic attempt -- if you look closely there's a shadowy figure doing the same. Directors sometimes don't have the courage to edit this way. It's very hard to have faith in your own thought process -- I did it freely in "NBK". With JFK and Nixon, the editing fit the stories -- deconstructed reality. That style makes the characters into jigsaw puzzles. The truth is a construct.

Baltimore, MD: Mr. Stone,

Big fan! You have always had a healthy obsession with the media. You love to examine how your characters are defined and distorted by the media, and I have seen you do it again and again to great success. (Even Conan was a pop star in his own era). What I especially like about your style, though, is how you have moved beyond conventional cinemtic storytelling into an extreme visual and nonlinear style in certain films and parts of your films—the barroom scene in Any Given Sunday" and the whole of "killers," for instance. I hope this continues and I look forward to more of your offerings. Oops. My question: The 1980's saw your emergence as a great director, and the 1990's saw you develop that unique visual style I have been touting. What can we expect to see in this decade?

p.s. Anyone who can get that good of a performance out of Lawrence Taylor deserves another Oscar!

Oliver Stone: Lawrence Taylor is a natural athlete and a natural performer. Thanks for the compliment. My editing style gets hammered a lot by people who say I'm not subtle, that I have a sledgehammer style. I believe the human mind can function on many different channels. Past, present and future are fascinating concepts.

Sterling, Va.: My fiance and I are both political junkies and enjoy your movies very much. We still laugh over spending part of our Christmas Day in '95 enjoying "Nixon." Are you familiar with the new book detailing his drug-taking as president? Perhaps if you made "Nixon" today you'd have him popping pills instead of drinking ... Good luck and keep poking the powers-that-be in the eye.

Oliver Stone: We did have Nixon popping pills -- popping the whole case all over the floor! I'd heard stories that he was taking medication for phlebitis. I saw him and portrayed him as a human being. I'm doing a review of the Summers book, "Arrogance of Power", for the Los Angeles Times. The media is concentrating on the sensationalistic aspects of the book, and not Nixon's relationship with Hoffa, Hughes, Mitchell, and his financing. That's where the heart and soul of the book is.

WDC: Mr. Stone,

Would you entertain a biographical question or two? With which unit did you serve in Vietnam? What were the circumstances surrounding your award of the Bronze Star? Obviously, you are a veteran but is that a term you use to think of yourself?

Oliver Stone: I was in country for 15 months, and in combat units for 13 of those months. I was wounded twice and was sent to the rear, gave up, and then went back to the front. I worked out of Quang Tri. I won a Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Jason from Gaithersburg: I believe that Ed Norton is one of the best young actors in Hollywood. What is your take on him as an artist?

Oliver Stone: I think he's very talented. I produced "The People vs. Larry Flynt", where he established his reputation.

herndon, va: Mr. Stone: In his "Hollywood's History of the World," the author (and sometime screen writer) George MacDonald Fraser notes (I believe this phrasing is correct) that the soldiers portrayed in "Platoon" are a disgrace to the profession of arms and are totally inferior to the infantrymen he served with in Burma in WWII. Your comments?

Oliver Stone: I can't make any opinion of that because I've heard varying and contradictory statements of how soldiers fought in Burma. I'm sure the Burmese campaign is subject to review.

Soldiers in Vietnam were not a disgrace. They fought as best they could against an enemy we couldn't see. The statement misses the point and is nasty.

College Park, MD: Will you please make a film (similar to Nixon) about the Reagan years? I realize that he's not long for this earth, and his record will be whitewashed in the obits, but someone needs to construct an accessible record of the sleaziness, illegality, and treason associated with his reign. Please!!!

Oliver Stone: I can't do everything! I hope there will be another generation of filmmakers who are inspired by my work and will be continue with the work. A film has to be entertaining, first of all.

I'm working on a movie "Beyond All Borders", which is about refugee workers. The narrative is a love story.

washingtonpost.com: Our time's up. Thanks to Oliver Stone for staying over the designated time -- and to everyone who participated!

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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