The Nancho Consultations

Oliver Stone
Nancho Lite Sri Oliver

Nancho consults Oliver Stone

NANCHO ADVISORY: This consultation was extracted from several sessions and is presented here in its final radio format.

Oliver Stone - Vietnam vet, screenwriter/director and Academy Award winner - is a complex piece of work. The very name - a combination of whimsy and stolidity - foreshadows contradictions. Stone is a rebellious outsider now welcome in the halls of power, a pessimist with hope, and an apostle of peace who fills his movies with violence.

He also proved a man of rare patience and passion during the decade of studio rejections that greeted his seething Vietnam memoir, "Platoon". The explosive international success of that film vindicated Stone, but he has neither forgiven nor forgotten the system that put him through hell.

- Verbatim Excerpts -

Nancho: During a recent visit in Japan, Stone recalled his years on the low road and the abrupt ascent to glory.

Stone: There's no question the world of movies for me has changed radically since 1985. From 1969 to 1984 I struggled to get my movies made. I had my first international success with "Midnight Express" in 1979 but was terribly disillusioned by the refusal of the studios, on the heels of that success, to undertake "Platoon" or any of the, or any of my other Vietnam scripts because, essentially, of a fear, both of exploring that war in realistic detail, and also a fear of giving the viewer too much reality. From 1980 to 1985, the height of Reaganism, was a particularily loathsome period in Hollywood, equivalent to the McCarthyism of the 1950's. Big budget comedies became the vogue of the land.

Drama itself became suspect as a genre. And you may not believe this but there was a period of several, several years when you could not get a movie made about a serious subject without Robert Redford or Meryl Streep as insurance. The best dramas of the period, "Missing" - Costa Gravas, and "Raging Bull" - Marty Scorseses, met with indifference at the box office. Controversy in any form just did not make money. And without controversey, as you know, culture becomes stagnant.

I was thus at a dead end in 1984 and in this nadir of my professional life I vowed to make "Salvador" at any cost. I was saved, however, from personal bankruptcy by the advent of the video cassette revolution which allowed me to make the movie with a small British company, Hemdale. The movie of course being about a suspect American foreign policy in Central America, was considered by the American distributors as anti-American, and they refused to distribute it. "Too radical," they said. So Hemdale distributed it. But the film was only saved from an anoymous box office death by its video cassette sale which helped relaunch the film with two Oscar nominations.

It was a similar struggle on "Platoon". The success of the film not only astonished us, it astonished everybody. And I wish I could see the faces of the hundreds of people who have turned down that film over ten years time, saying it would never make a dime. Now of course they are falling all over themselves to make "Platoon"-lookalikes and TV series proudly hailing the Vietnam veteran - and in the process, missing the whole point of that movie and that war - that the veteran should not be glorified, that the war was thoroughly immoral and fought immorally, that there is no glory or heroism or patriotism in war.

Despite his personal success, Stone is far from complacent about the future. He confided to Nancho his deep concern for America and the dangers facing his young son, Sean.

Stone: I'm very worried about where America's going. I'm very worried about the increasing militarism in my country. I'm very worried about him going to another Third World border war to fight against rebels in 2010 when he comes of age. I'm very worried about the national debt we are leaving our children. I'm certainly, I've certainly seen the decline of America in my lifetime and I think it will certainly continue through his, and I feel sorry for some of the things he's going to have to go through.

Whatever "Platoon"s success as an anti-war classic, Stone realizes that militarism is still alive and well, both in the world and in the imaginations of his countrymen. Part of its enduring attraction he blames on jingoistic fantasy films like "Top Gun".

Stone: This is American madness at its height - the tradition that we are the best, the only true and brave and free land, and that we can always lick the Indians. Well, that's horseshit to me, and it's dangerous horseshit. And it keeps getting made because inevitably in any colony or society there are, there are the Neanderthals who just don't get it, who lack in some fundamental way a compassion for the pain and suffering of others. It is so sad, and yet absurd to me, having witnessed these American "adventures" so soon after 1960's Vietnam, that we always underestimate war. Because time goes by and we forget. And it is obvious, and it becomes a cliche that "war is bad." And in becoming a cliche the war-lovers and warmongers among us manage to render it meaningless to the younger generation, so that they too, knowing nothing and having learned nothing from history, will, in their turn, fight and die for outdated ideals of nationalism and patriotism. The two worst enemies of mankind are nationalism and patriotism. In their name millions and millions have died. And in their name we have learned to hate, and kill the perfect stranger.

While he still loves America the country, Stone recognizes powerful forces at work subverting her ideals, forces that must be soon confronted. He brings a warrior's heart to that confrontation and declares his case with a prophet's zeal.

Stone: The greatest single role any artist can play in the waning years of this century filled with the perils of Cold War ideologies, is to fight with all one's heart and soul against the possibility of human annihilation. This nightmare, in my opinion, is probably going to come, sadly, and to me oddly, from my country, the U.S.A. And I say it with a mixture of despair, yet hope because the game is not wholly lost. Yet there is in my country - and there's been from since I remember - two very strong and opposing strains, a civil war between the left and the right, between the conservative and the liberal, between the America that helped defeat Hitler and fascism, and America the fascist that took in all the Nazi war criminals in order to better fight Communism.

I was born in 1946 at the dawn of this Cold War and it has been the great curse of my lifetime. It has indeed corrupted my country. It has given us Korea and Vietnam; a defense industry that like a black hole takes 30% of our budget and creates nothing with it; and justifies our financial neglect of education, health, welfare; has given us cities with the highest crime rates in the world; has let us decline to 11th place in per capita income in the world, to 46th in literacy; and put us $2 trillion in debt. And now, Vietnam forgotten, has brought us an active participation in the sinister repression of legitimate revolutions around the world - to me even more heart-breaking, because it is in defiance of our own Declaration of Independence which calls for the right of revolution and the right of self-determination.

Bravo. As Pogo said, "we have become the enemy and the enemy is us," with a security state now second to none. We have become a force of repression in the Third World. Perhaps it is best to drop archaic definitions of Capitalism versus Communism and to talk only in terms of repressors and repressed, of freedom versus repression. I think this would be a more honest discussion. We give them "dinero" as long as they sell our Coca-Cola, but God forbid they should express a cry for political freedom or economic justice. We call that subversion and send in the Marines or the World Bank. The method varies, but the result is the same - obedience, "financial responsibility", austerity.

A graduate of Yale and exclusive private schools, Stone has an educated grasp of the geo-political crises we face. But while a trained mind helps him define these problems, he finds he must turn to his heart for solutions.

Stone: Where will it all end? To whom do we turn? I don't know. I'm really lost. In my heart I feel the only solution lies in those movies I saw as a kid where it's still possible that a hero, overwhelmed on all sides by enemy swordsmen, could by some tremendous shining light of inner force and greater love turn the tables on fate and triumph over all the odds. And the world, I think, should be written by screenwriters, and the way they write it, that's the way the world is, or ought to be. History is the ongoing story against overwhelming odds of hope, nothing more or less, but hope.

But as a realist and industry veteran, Stone takes hope not just from cinema's past fables, but also from its future potential - the power to foster international empathy. And that future, at least, he sees as bright.

Stone: The world of movies, I think, is changing for the better. I think it's heading into another golden age. And it is also my thought that we are in a corresponding time of political change on this planet, especially in view of the vast changes in China and Russia. And with this political change is coming, I hope, a vast cultural change wherein films will be more truly international, made everywhere - "The Great Wall" from China, "Repentance" from Russia, films from Greece, Turkey, Europe, South America - all, I pray, will blend into a planetary consciousness wherein we will be able to communicate with one another in a matter of moments in images broadcast on a screen. And those images will break down the differences between people and make us one race on this planet without war. For who in any country can resist the primal power of a kiss, or a broken heart; or an image of a person facing adverse odds or crushing poverty and trying to fight back; or a man trying to stay alive in war; or a mother trying to raise a baby or a family, or have semblance of a life that works. Who can resist those images? We all basically love the same things - everywhere. There is such a thing as a universal common denominator. And all of us who make movies, write books know that, because we go for it all the time. We try to hit those nerves and themes every time. We try for what Jung called "the sympathy of all things." That is the new culture, the global culture, the culture of the future, not the past.

- Interview by Kathy Arlyn Sokol
Written by W. David Kubiak

See his reflections on
"History and the Movies"
His Commencement Address
to the UC Berkeley Class of '94


Shareright (S) 1999 : Nancho Ijin Butai