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Oliver Stone

In: Historical Events

Submitted By wtkostovetsky
Words 2032
Pages 9
Oliver Stone’s USA
Wesley Kostovetsky

The History Behind Oliver Stone’s Success
Oliver Stone is called by many a historian. Some call him a cinematic historian. Others call him a type of public historian. Oliver Stone likes to refer to himself strictly as a dramatist and in some cases a docu-dramatist. Whatever title chosen there is no doubt he has a made a huge impact through his films; though some may argue in a negative way. Oliver Stone has written and/or directed films about the Vietnam War, Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon’s presidency, Wall Street, the military dictatorship in El Salvador, and many other subjects. Stone’s expertise in film lay in what most “Hollywood executives prefer to avoid. Historical and political cinema is supposedly deadly at the box office.” Stone’s films are known to make audiences “uncomfortable” and cause “controversy”. Through four essays, including one written by Oliver Stone himself explains the reason why his films have made huge impacts and controversies; as well as, the differences between written history and history on film, and the life experiences leading to the creation of some his films and his connection to them. Since the beginning of his career Stone has been “viciously attacked” by critics about his films. The main argument by critics of history films is that they are too fictional for a number of reasons. Though containing “numerous authentic elements” and details the invention of scenes, dialogue, and characters is not practically for a true historic film. Along with inventions, many historic films comprise of “single explanations around events with complex causes” which creates false facts for audiences. Another characteristic of historic films critics argue against is the fact that these stories center on one or two heroic figures. While these still continue today Stone firmly defends all his films stating that “no one really knows or can know history” and that inventions are essential to present movies convincing and realistic situations. Stone also explains that inventions also are created to identify with audience. Stone also points out that the inventions he creates are based off of the heavy amounts of research he studies. A controversial example is the suggestion that Kennedy had a plan to withdraw from Vietnam after his reelection. Stone defends his film by giving details in his research showing the hints pointed to this decision. Stone’s ability to openly defend his films “has made him one of the most recognizable public faces among Hollywood artisans behind the camera.” Stone is not alone in the defense of his films. Toplin reveals that the simplicity of historical films “arouse” interest, thinking, and debate. Defenders of Stone’s work also believe that films history cannot be based with the same standards as written history. Rosenstone adds to the argument of necessary invention by explaining how the motion picture is “greedy” in that it demands more information then historians can ever know. The screen’s ability to give an emotionalized experience to the past in a way to make it powerful and unforgettable is a feature the written word cannot easily come by for all audiences. This is why history on the screen is the history of the future. The expansion of the definition of the term history is argued by those who defend Stone. They compare Stone as a historian much like those who organize museums displays, programs, and renovate historic buildings. Public historian is the term used to identify these promoters of history. Toplin also recognizes PBS television filmmakers Ken Burns and David Grubin in their efforts in production of popular documentary films. Cable television also “contributes” in turning channels such as the History Channel, the Learning Channel, and others popular to the public. Stone’s films have impacted American culture in positive and negative ways. Natural Born Killers, a film in which two lovers that become serial killers and are glorified by the media gave impact to criminal behavior. Debates over the claim by novelist John Grisham that the film “is saying that murder is cool and fun” erupted “when fourteen inspired copy cat crimes” emerged after the film’s debut gained the most publicity; as well as, lead to a “lawsuit against the film.” Among praises, Walter LeFeber stated that he found “much value in Stone’s treatment of another foreign policy issue” in Salvador. Toplin’s text also informs that the film Wall Street helped point out that not everyone gained from the “spiral of stock market gains.” Stone’s films also impacted audiences by “advancing public discussion” through the films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Stone’s film JFK lead to what few, if any, films have ever accomplished when Congress released thousands of pages of findings about the assassination of President Kennedy as stated in Toplin’s text. Stone’s political perspective is unknown even though many have tried to hypothesize through his films. Critics point out that the films earlier in his films such as Midnight Express, Conan the Barbarian, and Scarface seem to illustrate a right-wing perception. Others identify Stone as a “flaming liberal” through Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, and Salvador. Stone claims in his essay that his political views are inductive, much like his films, and are based on what “makes sense” to him. He admits in his desire for change, but “commonsense change.” Oliver Stone’s essay also defends his claim that he never defined himself as a cinematic historian or a defining spirit and that the media created these titles. He defends this argument by explaining that through research of his interviews it shows that he never announced that title. Stone also explains that the media’s created “public fantasy” is stemmed from jealousy and the stereotype that “here in Hollywood” “the outside world thinks of us all as rich and irresponsible.” He also criticizes the fact that the youth of the journalism career “amazes” him in that they have the power to “injure, harm, or destroy” the reputations, especially those older than themselves. He also expresses his disbelief in the fact that these young journalists need not consult the people they write about nor have their sources checked. The Sacred Mission essay discusses the life of Oliver Stone; as well as, with emphasis on influential parts of his life. The essay starts with the fact that Stone had served two tours in Vietnam, one as a soldier and another as a civilian. Stone was known to use conflict of the Vietnam War as his “tool for understanding larger historical questions.” Vietnam was considered his “touchstone.” Throughout his life Stone was known as an outsider in both school and the military. While attending Yale University Stone began to become infatuated with Joseph Conrad’s depictions of the exotic Orient. After many failed attempts he finally found his desired overseas employment with Free Pacific Institute in Taiwan. The organization employed Stone as an English teacher. Two semesters later he joined the merchant marines where in Mexico he began to write his first novel, A Child’s Night Dream.
Stone admitted to suicidal thoughts often entering his thoughts, but could not “pull the trigger.” Stone “problem” would have to be “resolved” by someone else on the battlefield. During his tour in Vietnam Stone obtained a neck wound during a VC ambush. Comrades of Stone described him a “quiet person who kept to himself.” Eventually Stone began serving with the Fire Cavalry Division which was a minesweeping detail. This started the character creation of people he met. The first was a “large black man” from a small town in Tennessee who eventually became the character “King” in Platoon. The next character he met was a half Spanish, half Apache sergeant whose personality fascinated and inspired Stone and the rest of the men in his platoon. Another soldier that “bashed an old woman’s head with the butt of his gun” Stone found himself characterizing in the film Platoon as well. In all the characters: Rhah, King, Bunny, Lehner, Bernes, and Elias were characters found during his tour in Vietnam. The experience of breaking up the rape of a young girl by two U.S. soldiers gave Stone the desire to “reassert his humanity.” Soon after he bought a camera a spent the rest of his tour taking hundreds of pictures of the countryside before finally being discharged. He was twenty-two years old when he returned to the states and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism and the Purple Heart and Oak Leaf Cluster for the wounds he obtained during the tour. After his arrest and release Stone found himself writing the screenplay Break to try to “find peace with himself”. The experience eventually lead to film school where he worked under Martin Scorsese who believed Stone had “potential” and was “impressed” by Stone’s first film, Last Year in Vietnam. An emphasis on Stone’s marriage to Najwa Sarkis seemed to calm Stone down enough. She was financially able to provide for them both she encouraged him to concentrate on his films. Eventually; however, his marriage “fell apart” and he found himself living in a going from one job to another and living in a cheap apartment. The death of his grandmother when he was twenty five “magnified” his depression, but also inspired him.
With his new found inspiration Stone began to shop Platoon. Although no studio found enough interest to give him solid finically backing he was finally hired by Columbia Pictures to write an autobiography on Billy Hayes called Midnight Express. The screenplay won an Academy award for best adapted screenplay of 1978. This lead to an offer to write a screen play based on Ron Kovic’s book which ultimately leads to many more productions. After his production of Salvador, Stone found solid funding at last for Platoon from Hemdale. The involved daily discomforts, authentic speech and language, and the greatest sense of realism when he involved opposing groups within a Platoon coming together in combat. It raised millions and was proclaimed in Times as “Viet Nam as It Really Was.” Stone has followed up this movie with many others including two more films involving the Vietnam from different perspectives.
Oliver Stone’s life experiences ultimately lead to his very successful career in what seems to be his dream job. He overcame adversity against executives who avoid “message movies.” His combination of controversial topics in his films and his ability to publicly defend his films brought excitement to his works; as well as, impacted American culture through new found interest and debate in meaningful history. Oliver Stone advocates his success to the “sixty to eighty hour weeks” and his mastery of the six elements of mainstream film.

Bibliography 1. Roberts, Randy, and David Welky. “A Sacred Mission: Oliver Stone and Vietnam.” In Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy 2000, edited by Brent Toplin, 66-90. Lawerence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 2. Rosenstone, Robert A.. “Oliver Stone As Historian.” In Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy 2000, edited by Brent Toplin, 26-39. Lawerence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 3. Stone, Oliver. “Stone on Stone’s Image (As Presented by Some Historians).” In Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy 2000, edited by Brent Toplin, 40-65. Lawerence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 4. Toplin, Brent. Introduction to Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy. Edited by Brent Toplin. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 5. Toplin, Brent. Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History, and Controversy. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

[ 1 ]. Toplin. 8.
[ 2 ]. Toplin. 9.
[ 3 ]. Toplin. 18.
[ 4 ]. Toplin. 12.
[ 5 ]. Toplin. 6.
[ 6 ]. Rosenstone. 27.
[ 7 ]. Toplin. 9.
[ 8 ]. Toplin. 5.
[ 9 ]. Rosenstone. 32.
[ 10 ]. Toplin. 7.
[ 11 ]. Toplin. 19.
[ 12 ]. Toplin. 18.
[ 13 ]. Toplin. 5.
[ 14 ]. Toplin. 25.
[ 15 ]. Stone. 57.
[ 16 ]. Stone. 51.
[ 17 ]. Stone. 51.
[ 18 ]. Roberts and Welky. 66.
[ 19 ]. Roberts and Welky. 66.
[ 20 ]. Roberts and Welky. 70.
[ 21 ]. Roberts and Welky. 70.
[ 22 ]. Roberts and Welky. 71.
[ 23 ]. Roberts and Welky. 72.
[ 24 ]. Roberts and Welky 72.
[ 25 ]. Roberts and Welky. 73.
[ 26 ]. Roberts and Welky. 74.
[ 27 ]. Roberts and Welky. 74.
[ 28 ]. Roberts and Welky. 74.
[ 29 ]. Roberts and Welky. 75.
[ 30 ]. Roberts and Welky. 79.
[ 31 ]. Stone. 51.

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