Oliver Stone sets the record straight

Wall Street director on big brother scandals and greed.

by Richard Mowe

Oliver Stone, no stranger to political candour and making waves with his beliefs, is in Karlovy Vary to introduce screenings of two episodes of The Untold History Of The United States and to receive a Crystal Globe for his contribution to world cinema. The ten-hour documentary series was co-written by Peter Kuznick (a professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University) and examines an unrevealed history of the US during the 20th century. The festival also will screen Brian De Palma’s Scarface, for which Stone penned the screenplay, and a new director’s cut of Stone’s epic Alexander with Colin Farrell. He sounded off at a media gathering.

Oliver Stone at Karlovy Vary.
Oliver Stone at Karlovy Vary.

Q: What prompted you to turn your attention to The Untold History of the United States?

A: I did not make it because I’m an ideologist, but because I’m a storyteller. It’s a story of a country that lost all its innocence after the Second World War and became obsessed by national security. It's all about 70 years that we have forgotten. When you see it in one piece – all ten hours of it – you get it.

Q: You’ve been working to get the book that accompanies the series into libraries. How is that going?

A: I flew in to the Czech Republic from Chicago, where I was attending a librarians’ convention – 15,000 librarians of whom 2000 showed up for a talk we gave.

Q: Will it become a part of the school curriculum?

A: I certainly hope so ... We’re working at it. High school has a huge influence in the States but it is controlled politically. It is very Conservative and offers really bad history. I think the reason American history is so boring is that they sanitise it so much. They make it like a Disney movie, where you know over and over again that the “good guy” wins – and the United States is the good guy. So I said we have to make it more like a horror show: bring the fear back, the fear of history, because kids like fear.

Q: Why did you drop out of Yale University ?

A:George W Bush was in my class at Yale University. I didn’t know him, but he pointed it out to me years later, when he was running for President. But he was typical of that sort of world. That was the main reason I pulled out of Yale, because I didn’t feel comfortable with the place – there’s a certain elitism and a privileged mentality. A lot of people who like Bush are good families with money who could go to the school and get a “C” and not care. And actually find their way in the world and end up as president of the United States. I made a movie about it called W.

Q: You first made your mark as a screenwriter with Midnight Express. Is screenwriting what still comes to you first?

A: For me it’s fundamental, and I take a very strong approach to the script. Even if I’m not credited, I’m working on the script all the time ... and I have a good structural analysis of it. That’s not to say I’m good, but it’s my foundation. I’ve never been a hired director in that sense. Even World Trade Center – which came as a script – I really worked on it a lot, although I don’t know if I’m credited on it.

Q: Along with Bush, President Obama is the focus of the last episode of the history project. How do you rate him now?

A: I despise Obama or rather I have come to despise him, because he’s part of the American empire. I always thought that 2008 was a hat-trick. I thought he was really going to bring some Roosevelt-type reforms to the system, but he couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the guts. He was a compromised candidate from the beginning ... We thought it was a great moment for reform. But the hardcore Democratic left supported him deeply, so they were very upset. They don’t want criticism of Obama. But what we have is “Bush’s fourth term,” if you think about it: The “War or Terror” has continued the same way; the United States continues to intervene in other countries and continues to dominate. And this eavesdropping scandal is disgusting. It’s a disgrace. They’re establishing precedents that will never go away. It is as Orwell predicted and Big Brother is here to stay.

Q: Almost three decades after the original Wall Street was released, do you think it’s still relevant?

A: I hate Wall Street although I love my father who was a stockbroker. I hate what Wall Street’s become. Wall Street did have a purpose, but now it’s perverted. It’s become a market, just a market for profit, and it’s not productive. In some ways, it’s counter to the real economy. At the same time the market keeps going up. The trend does not reflect the economy, rather it reflects greed.

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