Passion. This is what drives three-time Academy Award winner, director Oliver Stone.
According to one film critic, Stone’s films are about “a person who realizes he is living an inauthentic life, and changes it to be authentic.” This also describes Oliver Stone’s life and his mission–to awaken people through the power of drama. He certainly enlivened the students who joined him for an intimate conversation, moderated by Assistant Professor Julie Wyman, about his life’s work as part of the UC Davis Mondavi Center’s Distinguished Speakers Series.
Stone’s visit marked the second year of collaboration between the Mondavi Center and the Humanities Institute, to bring distinguished speakers into meaningful dialogue with students, in this case around fifty students enrolled in Theater and Technocultural Studies courses, and graduate students interested in film. Both Julie Wyman’s Experimental Digital Cinema I and Sarah P. Anderson’s Film Production students enjoyed a chance to ask this famous director their questions firsthand. Later in the evening, Stone spoke to a larger public audience at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
From his first widely acclaimed success Platoon (1986) to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), many of his films use the drama of individual transformation to critique the broader corruption Stone sees in governments and corporations. “Conflict is drama, really,” Stone said, and he has rarely shied away from either.
Stone’s experience in Vietnam, both as a teacher and later as a volunteer soldier in the Vietnam War, clearly shaped his life path and filmmaking. Vietnam not only changed his view on the world, but also “coarsened America,” in Stone’s view. He has spent much of his career working to dramatize the lessons he learned from his experiences of war.
“War is the most gravest of activities and should not be taken lightly.” This is what Stone, and other vets learned in Vietnam, a message he hoped others would learn from his Vietnam films. Platoon, the first in a trilogy that also includes Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth (1993) , hit the big screen at a time when he believes people were ready to hear a more critical message about Vietnam. Still, he believes that as a nation, we have not learned the lessons of Vietnam, or apologized for the ways the war destroyed that country.
In the coming year, Oliver Stone fans can look forward to two new releases. Savages, a feature-length thriller on battles between the drug cartel in Mexico and boutique California marijuana growers, will come out in July. The Untold History of the United States, which will be aired on Showtime starting in November, involves ten, one-hour films devoted to such controversial issues as the rise of American imperialism and the emergence of a national security state.
When asked if he thought he had developed an “Oliver Stone style,” he suggested that rather than developing his own unique style, he made the style of the film reflect the film content. Making the style fit the story, and building the story on the people, is what make a good film. “People are what make it dramatic. People first. Don’t get lost in the rhetoric,” Stone explained.
“It takes skill to make a film. There are a lot of half-made films out there right now,” Stone cautioned the aspiring filmmakers in the room. He encouraged students to, “Start from the personal. Everyone has something to give. Life is about finding out what that is.”
Photo Credit: Alex Yang http://www.alexyangphotography.com/