Oliver Stone: Stoned Again
In part two of our interview with him, Oliver Stone calls Pauline Kael "an elitist bag lady," speculates about why Joe Pesci and Gore Vidal sad bad things about him, describes the Zapruder film as "the most beautiful film ever made," confesses he sometimes fears losing his confidence...and more.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: In part one of our interview, you talked about being deeply affected by writers like Conrad and Hemingway. What directors have influenced you?
OLIVER STONE: My influences were very collective. Hundreds of films affected me. I was influenced by The Robe as much as by Lawrence of Arabia; they were spectacles, concepts of life greater than 1950 New York City, America. Kubrick was really important. Then David Lean. On the Waterfront in black and white in '54 affected me. I thought One-Eyed Jacks was terrific. Fellini knocked me out. So did the French New Wave--_Breathless_ was the first one I saw, it just knocked the shit out of me. The concept of doing your own life story on film through symbols and metaphors was pretty wild to me--it was very direct as opposed to the impersonal American cinema.
Q: How important was Martin Scorsese as your teacher at NYU?
A: Oh, very, because he was one of the leading avatars of "buffdom." Marty worshiped the director. He loved Hollywood filmmaking. He under stood style, color, camera. And he taught so brilliantly that you got inspired as a result. We would do these two-minute black-and-white pictures and he would critique them. It was hilarious--the degree of sarcasm, you had to be there. Everybody would get grilled. You put up your film and by the time it was over it was, 'It stinks, it stinks!'
Q: How sensitive are you to criticism?
A: Less so over the years. At first, when I became nationally prominent in the mid-'80s and I wasn't used to it, to be criticized was heavy. But then, my character was also being slandered beyond the films. I mean, my films were terrible, but my character was also defective. Which was very hard for me to accept. To be ridiculed. I hope it didn't harden me, because that would be its purpose, to destroy your confidence and make you cynical. That's the easy way to go. They say so many stupid things, I just have to detach myself. The portrayal of me as screaming and angry and all that bullshit--believe me, I would not have done 11 movies of this size in 10 years if I was making enemies of my colleagues and friends and actors. The director has to be the leader, the visionary. And so he has to see the problem of the ego, and we all have to get the ego together and put it in a place where we all serve the higher ideal of making the film. Jimmy Woods, who's known me a long time--he worked with me on the first one and the last one, on Salvador and Nixon--said, and I'm paraphrasing him, "The thing with Oliver is that he doesn't have an ego. That's precisely what people miss; he wants to get the result and he'll take it from anywhere he can." But some critics have become so negative that they don't realize how they destroy people. Kael started it, Sarris, Vincent Canby. They're poisonous people.
Q: Even the early Kael?
A: Oh yeah. It was always about hatred, tearing down, destroying reputations, then building up a few darlings. Why should we believe Pauline Kael's collective mythology of America? It's bullshit. Let her go out and make Pauline Kael movies and make her dream, like I do. She never spoke for Americans. She was just an elitist bag lady. She was good with words, but so what? We need good critics who are generous of spirit and who have love in their hearts, who will take any movie and understand that the subject is not criticizable in itself, only the execution. That is the true, honest critic. Help the audience understand something in the work that even the artist doesn't see.
Q: Are you saying if a critic doesn't like something, he or she should pass on writing about it?
A: No. What I'm saying about critics can only hurt my reputation. I'm putting my balls in your hands. I'm not running away and giving you a bland interview, I'm not saying I love the critics. But I respect them if they're good. A lot of the anti-Hollywood sentiment is so boring. The fact that [a movie is] made in Hollywood makes it evil--that mentality, that intellectual nihilism is everywhere. It's insane. Any film made in a grocery store for twelve dollars is valid, whereas any film made for $25 million in Hollywood is a joke? Bullshit! Hollywood is the most democratic place I know on Earth. It's given talented people opportunities to write and direct and produce; it's the land of bullshit and dreams. It's the most egalitarian society I know. And that's why it's so hated by elitists.
Q: Is it a directorial technique of yours that to get anger from an actor you may enrage him, to get tears you may belittle him?
A: That's a method of directing. I don't have conflicts with actors. I really don't. Never did.
Q: Why, as has been reported, did a crew member on Seizure try to kill you?
A: Which one? [Laughs] The guy who almost killed me was a special effects man from New Jersey. He had a long pigtail and a machete. He was drunk and chased me--he wanted to kill me because he was fucking my lead actress, Martine Beswick, and he was jealous of me. She had eyes for me and I had eyes for her--and we ended up together after the film. He was out of his mind during the whole film--he was fucking the lead actress and started to believe that he was a star. [Laughs]
Q: I've read you had disagreements with Michael Douglas during Wall Street.
A: The whole film depended on credibility and I had some problems with what he was doing. We had a showdown after three or four days. I went to him and said I wasn't convinced that he had gotten the character of Gordon Gekko. We worked it out. I think his ego might have been hurt by some of the things I said about his previous performance--I didn't say this to him, but in my mind I was thinking that he was resorting to television things he did on The Streets of San Francisco. He got more intense and serious as a result of that. Whatever we did, he got the Oscar, right?
Q: What was it like being with Al Pacino when he was playing Tony Montana in Scarface?
A: Well, Al is a very interesting character. I was young working on Scarface, and he very much intimidated me.
Q: Did you know Scarface is Pacino's favorite movie?
A: No, I didn't. I knew it was good at the time. Talk about getting bad reviews--awful things were said about me, and I was just the writer. There were great lines in that movie and they were not all mine--I took from wherever I could, from Al, from [Scarface producer] Marty Bregman, [Scarface director] Brian De Palma.
Q: Did you have any sense that it would become a cult movie?
A: Yeah. I thought it was a terrific picture. It was highly original for its time. Still is. It was picked up on back then, on the streets of New York in '83, '84, you'd hear it--black kids were getting it, the future rap kids. [But] Scarface didn't do me much good because it was perceived as very violent and brutal.
Q: Was this your personal farewell to cocaine?
A: I was doing cocaine during the research phase. I went cold turkey during the writing in Paris. That's why I went to Paris. I couldn't break the habit here--Florida, L.A. and New York were the three hot spots.