Mondavi Center Welcomes Director Oliver Stone
A veteran of the Vietnam War, writer, director and producer, Oliver Stone began his movie career as a screenwriter in the late 1970s with credits that included “Midnight Express,” “Conan the Barbarian” and “Scarface.”
He won an Oscar for best director for “Platoon,” his semi-autobiographical film about the ground war in Vietnam. He went on to make a string of successful and controversial films like “Salvador,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” both Wall Street sagas, and “The Doors.” His historical dramas “JFK” and “Nixon” earned Stone a reputation as a historical pragmatic and paranoid conspiracy theorist.
Stone is currently producing a movie to be released this summer, “Savages.” The story is adapted from Don Winslow’s novel about two low-scale marijuana growers, Ben (Aaron Johnson) and an ex-Navy Seal, Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and their attempts to rescue their (shared) girlfriend O (Blake Lively) from a Mexican drug cartel boasting the henchman power of Benicio Del Toro. The film also features Uma Thurman as O’s mother and John Travolta as a DEA agent.
Last Friday Stone spoke to a large audience at the UC Davis Mondavi Center about “What is Creativity?”
Stone said he did not wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll be a writer.” Instead, like Gordon Gekko in his Wall Street movies, greed inspired his writing.
As an only child growing up in Manhattan in the ’50s, Stone revealed that he lived a pretty solitary life, spending most of his time reading and collecting football cards. At 7 or 8, his father worked out a deal where he would get a 25 cent allowance every week in exchange for writing a short story. Stone soon realized that if he wrote more, he would get more money to buy more cards. He was soon up to 75 cents a week.
Stone spent the next four or five years writing these stories and collecting his cards until one summer through the “clever trickery of his father,” as Stone puts it, “ I realized I enjoyed the process of writing.”
“Therefore, creativity is what I have termed The Honeycomb Effect, whereas things combine in play and imagination,” he said. “Creativity is a collision with another world, the energy you find within yourself to fill a personal void.”
During a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked, “What do you think your works are about?”
“Someone once referenced my work as ‘people who have lived inauthentic lives who have found themselves completely turned around by circumstances and events,’” he replied. "He was probably referring to the movie ‘Born on the Fourth of July,’ which is the story of Ron Kovick, who grew up believing in certain things about his country. Then he went to Vietnam and came back a completely changed man.”
Stone exclaimed with a smile, “I like that theme. I consider myself a dramatist. I like to tell a good story.”
I also had the chance to ask Stone a question: “Did you ever get the opportunity to talk to JFK Jr. or Carolyn about their feelings in regards to the movie and the conspiracy theory you referred to in your movie ‘JFK’?”
“Though we never sat down and had a face-to-face conversation about the movie, John Jr. had let me write several articles for his publication, George,” he replied. “I have always felt that he never wanted to face the possibility of the situation.”
Comparing JFK Jr. to Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet, Stone added, “John did not want to believe that his government, the country he loved, had anything to do with the death of his father.”
Stone is not apologetic for his method of telling a story. He has won numerous awards, including three Academy Awards and four Golden Globes and has been recognized and honored by universities and organizations for his artistic angle.
However, he is also adamant that the Academy Awards and most awards are, repeating what director Woody Allen had to say about the Oscars, “Bullshit. We don’t need somebody giving us an award for how we feel.”
Looking over his credits and listening to his discourse, it is easy to tell that Stone could never be satisfied just existing with mainstream media’s explanations of life. Instead, he is compelled to share his interpretations of reality via film, writing and speech.
During his talk at Mondavi, Stone seemed to challenge all to also take the time to look and listen for the facts. Whatever you may sense, Stone’s films cannot help but make you also “question your perception.”
Concluding his address, Stone was rushed to a waiting plane were he is off, again, for a fantastic journey to some distant land to complete a scene for what will surely be one more thought provoking motion picture.